Once again refusing to follow the science and CDC recommendations, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment is telling school districts to require masks on unvaccinated students. In a letter to superintendents and school board members dated July 16, JCDHE recommends districts implement “a policy that requires indoor mask wearing among persons who are not fully vaccinated.”

None of the available COVID-19 vaccines are approved for children under the age of 12, and the CDC warns that there is a likely association between the mRNA vaccines and myocarditis in adolescents and young adults. Fewer than 40% of Johnson County children between the ages of 12 and 17 are fully vaccinated. Slightly more than 50% of all eligible Johnson County residents are vaccinated, according to the JCDHE dashboard.

Johnson County commissioner Charlotte O’Hara called the recommendations on unvaccinated students “a backdoor mandate.”

Throughout the pandemic, local school boards deferred to recommendations from the county health department to adopt public health mandates. However, the board of county commissioners serves as the board of public health. O’Hara said county commissioners were not consulted on the recommendations for the coming school year. 

“They sent this out without us having any input on it and without any vote,” she said. “Again, it’s unelected staff making decisions.”

According to the letter, the goal of the health department’s recommendations to school districts is “to keep our schools open so that our children can learn and benefit from interactions with others.” The approach includes four COVID mitigation strategies: promoting vaccinations; requiring indoor masks among those who aren’t fully vaccinated; excluding persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 infection; and excluding close contacts of confirmed COVID-19 cases.

“The CDC recently issued guidance enabling most people who have been fully vaccinated to resume activities they did prior to the pandemic,” the letter reads. “However, substantial risks remain to those who are not fully vaccinated, including children under age 12 years for whom there is no currently authorized vaccine.”

Parents should consider their options

It’s only been a few hours since the JoCo Health recommended mask on unvaccinated students, but the Sentinel and its parent company, Kansas Policy Institute, have been inundated with questions from parents.  CEO Dave Trabert says parents should carefully consider their options.

“History says local school boards will use the JoCo Health recommendations as an excuse to effectively implement mask/vaccination mandates without regard to the serious educational and emotional effects on children.  Parents should do everything they can to let school board members know how they feel – write to them, call the district, and attend every school board meeting to voice your objections.”

Trabert says county health officials and school board members have refused to say how they balanced any perceived benefits to masks against the known educational and emotional consequences.  He recommends making that the primary focus of objections.

“They can’t answer that question, probably because they haven’t considered the consequences.  County health officials and school board members are simply focused on using their authority to force compliance with their wishes.  Their disdain for the best educational and emotional interests of students must be front and center.”

It’s unclear whether parents will still be able to file SB 40 complaints, given the recent decision by a Johnson County judge that declared the law unconstitutional.  Trabert strongly recommends that parents speak with an attorney before taking any action.

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