The Shawnee Mission school district (SMSD) has called an emergency board meeting on January 3 at 5 pm to discuss overturning their decision on December 13th that made masks optional for middle and high school students. Nothing has been posted to the district website, but The Sentinel is told that public comment will not be allowed.
Phone calls and emails to the district have not been returned, but the SMSD board is notorious for silencing concerned parents.
With history as a guide, SMSD is expected to base its likely pre-determined decision on media hype over COVID case growth of the Omicron variant without consideration of the severity of new cases. Reported cases are increasing but all local and international indications show that the Omicron variant produces much milder symptoms.
The first Omicron case in Kansas occurred in mid-December, but hospitalizations and deaths from other COVID variants are also much milder. Last year, there were 914 deaths attributed to COVID in November but only 244 in the same period this year. The drop in December deaths so far is even more precipitous, with 1,369 last year and only 147 through December 23 this year.
Johnson County is experiencing similar declines.
For the first three weeks of December, hospitalizations are 25% lower than the year before and there were 86% fewer deaths attributed to COVID. There is a time lag in reporting deaths and the Omicron variant only recently arrived in Kansas, but this is still very good news.
Educational consequences of mandatory masking
While the medical severity of COVID is declining, there is a growing body of evidence showing significant educational and emotional consequences of masking children.
The latest study from researchers at Brown University finds that COVID-19 mitigation policies like masks, social distancing, lockdowns, and school closures may have harmed the cognitive development of infants: Verbal, non-verbal, and early learning scores dropped among babies born during the pandemic.
“We find that children born during the pandemic have significantly reduced verbal, motor, and overall cognitive performance compared to children born pre-pandemic,” wrote the study’s authors. “Results highlight that even in the absence of direct SARS-CoV-2 infection and COVID-19 illness, the environmental changes associated with the COVID-19 pandemic is significantly and negatively affecting infant and child development.”
Reason Foundation reports that the study has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it has several limitations. Still, they say this pandemic-era drop in cognitive outcomes is notable.
This reporter asked SMSD school board members how they determined that the possible medical benefits of their COVID restrictions outweighed the known educational and emotional consequences. To date, they refuse to answer the question.