Johnson County public schools will still require masks after county’s order lifted

Even though Johnson County has lifted its countywide mask mandate, masks will still be required at public schools in northern Johnson County. Above, students wear masks in the hallways of Mill Creek Middle in Lenexa. Photo courtesy USD 232.

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While Johnson County has lifted its countywide mask mandate, school districts in the northern part of the county will still continue to require masks where physical distancing cannot occur.

Since the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic hit the Kansas City metro area more than a year ago, Johnson County officials have required masks to be worn in public spaces for a vast majority of the community. The latest mask order ended at midnight, May 1.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment and the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment continue to strongly recommend wearing masks indoors, especially when physical distancing cannot occur.

The newly established Senate Bill 40 signed into law by Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly earlier this year also gives sole authority for COVID-19 restrictions to local bodies, including school districts.

This means, school districts can legally continue to require masks be worn, but they can also face pushback from patrons who oppose mask mandates.

Since the law went into effect several weeks ago, Blue Valley, Olathe and USD 232 in De Soto have all held multiple public hearings based on complaints about their masking requirements.

Following the county’s decision last week to allow the latest mask order to expire, the Shawnee Mission Post asked if school districts in northern Johnson County will continue to require students and staff to wear masks at school and maintain other COVID-19 mitigation protocols.

Here are their responses:

Shawnee Mission School District

Students wear masks in a common area at Rhein Benninghoven Elementary in Shawnee.

Masks will still be required in school buildings, although mask breaks are allowed while outside and during physical education classes.

David Smith, chief communications officer for the Shawnee Mission School District, said the district has no plans to revise its own COVID-19 mitigation protocols, including those regarding masks, before the end of this school year.

“We have a strong working relationship with the county, and consider them partners in keeping our schools and our community safe,” Smith added.

Elementary students are allowed to remove their masks at recess while social distancing.

The district’s gating criteria for activities and athletics provides few details on whether masks are required.

However, certain activities are considered a high risk when performed without masks and/or in close, sustained contact, such as band and choral performances, along with football and wrestling, which are not currently in season.

More information on Shawnee Mission’s COVID-19 plans is available here.

USD 232 in De Soto

Students read books on the floor while wearing masks at Starside Elementary in De Soto. Photo courtesy USD 232.

Masks are still required in school buildings until the Board of Eduction takes action to change the district’s current policy.

Alvie Cater, district spokesperson, said elementary students may remove their masks while playing, as long as physical distancing can occur. That means masks must be worn when students are grouped together, like on a jungle gym, for instance.

“Distancing is a key component,” Cater said. “Our policy does allow for the removal of masks for a period of time when distancing can be achieved.”

This means that technically, masks could be taken off indoors — but this is nearly impossible in the classrooms because USD 232 has returned all students who were in hybrid or remote learning back to fully onsite learning.

Cater said schools have provided a place for students to have a mask break if needed.

“Our principals have been making accommodations along the way to assist students as much as possible,’ he added.

Olathe Public Schools

Olathe Public Schools will continue to require masks be worn at school. Photo via Olathe Public Schools’ Facebook page.

Masks are required to be worn indoors, and Olathe Public Schools will continue this requirement through the end of the school year.

Maggie Kolb, executive director of communications and community relations, said Olathe Public Schools will also continue to operate with no changes to the district’s current COVID-19 mitigation plans.

Generally, students are required to wear masks at recess, depending on the activity, Kolb added.

All attendees at sporting events are required to wear masks. Student-athletes can take off their masks while competing, but must put them back on when in the huddle, on the bench, in the dugout or otherwise not in a competition.

Blue Valley Schools

Blue Valley Schools says it will also continue to uphold its mask policy.

A spokesperson for the school district said that in general, no changes to the district’s policy have occurred.

The district will also enforce other COVID-19 mitigation measures through this school year, such as social distancing when possible, hand washing and cleaning, and at-school temperature checks.