FAIRWAY, KS (KCTV) – Tuesday night, the school board for KCK Public Schools voted to require masks in the upcoming school year for students, staff, parents and visitors. That's regardless of vaccination status.
Many area districts have made masks optional or strongly encouraged them dependent on vaccination status.
With COVID cases on the rise, some districts still don’t have any rules on masks one way or the other.
One district that still hasn’t created any policy on masks, one way or the other, is Shawnee Mission.
Tuesday morning, a nurse who directs the SMSD’s health services gave some enlightening numbers about how many students are eligible for the vaccine and some insight on whether a mask mandate was wise.
“As a nurse, I know that is the safest thing for our kids and probably the best way to keep everybody in school,” said Shelby Rebeck, the SMSD’s Health Services Director.
Less than a week ago, on Friday, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment issued a four-point guidance letter to school districts about the rising number of COVID cases and hospitalizations. One of them involved masks.
“This is a recommendation that the school districts require masks for those who are not vaccinated,” explained JCDHE Deputy Director Charlie Hunt.
That suggestion is less restrictive than the KCKPS mandate for masking for all--what’s known as universal masking--which is what was recommended this week by the American Academy of Pediatricians.
But, the mere idea of a mandate is something that gets some parents riled up.
Monday night at the school board meeting for the neighboring Blue Valley School District, parents held signs referring to masking as “medical tyranny” and “psychological abuse.”
“It is time to stop listening to the so-called experts,” one parent said from the podium.
“We don’t need to have masks to keep our kids safe,” another said.
“A soiled, brown, black, wet mask,” a third added.
“This should be a health decision made by individual families,” said a mother who used to be a teacher.
Rebeck has some sense of where parents and staff stand on the subject in her school district.
“Our district did a thought exchange,” said Rebeck, explaining that the process of coming up with a policy takes a lot of time and consideration.
That survey left her conflicted and uncertain about the value of a mandate because of what it would mean for staff.
“Knowing that 50% of our district does not want that? I’m not sure. Those people are in those schools to educate and to put them as the police of masking, I just... I don’t know that that’s the right thing either,” said Rebeck, concluding that she didn’t really have a resolved opinion or answer.
Ultimately, it’s not up to her or the local health department to decide. The sole authority on creating policy is with the school board.
The one thing Rebeck does hope is that, whatever the board decides, parents be understanding.
It’s a sentiment that was echoed by a doctor on one of the Kansas State High School Athletic Association’s advisory committees.
“Why can’t we be kind?” asked Dr. David Smith, MD, who sits on KSHAA’s Sports Medicine Advisory Committee. “I don’t understand why this has to be put your fists up and put your gloves on and let’s duke it out.”
As for vaccination, something that’s also been a big push among public health authorities, Rebeck has looked at the numbers by zip code specific to SMSD students.
She says among students old enough to be vaccinated, ages 12-17, the zip code with the highest vaccination rate showed 30% are vaccinated. In many other zip codes, that figure is closer to 20%, she says.
That’s a much smaller percentage than for the general population in Johnson County. According to KDHE records, 51% of Johnson County residents ages 12 and older are vaccinated.
The next Shawnee Mission School Board meeting is Monday. It’s not clear yet if a back-to-school COVID policy will be on the agenda.