Nearly 200 students at Shawnee Mission South High School have been quarantined from playing sports this week after at least three students tested positive for COVID-19.
That prompted the school’s athletic director to send an “urgent plea” Wednesday to students and families, encouraging them to continue following COVID-19 mitigation practices like masking and social distancing in order to tamp down the spread of the disease.
Otherwise, some athletes and teams, he warned, may not be able to finish their seasons.
“There are more students with positive tests, and that is causing an extreme domino effect of COVID transmission concerns,” SM South athletic director John Johnson wrote. “We have lost a multitude of contests this week, and the ability to make these up is extremely limited as the regular seasons conclude on May 14, just about two weeks away.”
At least two baseball games and one soccer match were postponed this week due to the outbreak.
‘We are so close’
Johnson urged students and families to continue taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the final weeks of the school year.
“We are so close – to lose your opportunities now would be a loss,” he said. “No matter what is changing relative to COVID mitigation recommendations from state to state, we in SMSD and other local school districts are still strongly encouraging a recommitment [sic] dedicated to our established COVID mitigation practices.”
SMSD communications officer David Smith said the effected student-athletes at SM South have been quarantined from playing sports but are still allowed to come to school for in-person learning.
“Guidelines from the county indicate that the procedures we have in place in schools (masks, social distancing, cohorting, etc.) are sufficient to prevent transmission [in school],” Smith said in an email to the Shawnee Mission Post.
Smith said no other SMSD high school is facing a similar situation.
SMSD’s COVID-19 dashboard, which was last updated Monday, shows that districtwide 192 students are in “active isolation,” meaning they have tested positive or are presumed positive.
Another 62 students, as of Monday, were in “active quarantine” from attending in-person learning because they had been potentially exposed to a positive case.
Smith said all three positive cases at SM South this week are suspected to have originated outside school.
COVID-19 protocols still a flashpoint
The outbreak at SM South comes in the same week the Board of County Commissioners voted to officially end the countywide public health order that includes a requirement that masks be worn in most public places.
Starting Saturday, the mask order will no longer be in place, though the county will still strongly recommend residents continue wearing masks in public.
Businesses and organizations will be allowed to still set their own rules.
Smith said SMSD would still continue requiring masks inside its buildings through at least the end of the current school year, along with other COVID-19 mitigation practices.
He said none of the district’s elementary or middle school students, as well as many high school students, have not been vaccinated since vaccines are only being offered to people 16 and older.
District leaders have long credited SMSD’s COVID-19 safety measures for limiting the spread of the disease inside the district’s buildings.
But Johnson County public schools’ COVID-19 protocols remain a point of tension as the academic year comes to a close.
A new state law allows some district patrons to challenge districts’ COVID-19 restrictions, including requirements that masks be worn inside school buildings at all times.
The Blue Valley, Olathe and USD 232 De Soto districts have all hosted multiple public hearings following parents’ complaints about mask requirements. Each time, all three districts have chosen to continue requiring masks.
SMSD is the only northern Johnson County district so far to have not faced such complaints.