Shawnee Mission school board to hold special meeting to discuss COVID-19 plans

Shawnee Mission CAA

Currently, SMSD is planning to require masks for elementary students but only recommend masks for middle and high schoolers. Rising COVID-19 cases have spurred another local district, USD 232 in De Soto, to change its policy and require universal masking at its facilities heading into a new school year. File photo.

The Shawnee Mission Board of Education will hold a special meeting Thursday night, Aug. 5, in order to discuss the district’s COVID-19 mitigation protocols heading into the new school year, according to a district announcement Wednesday.

Why it matters: The board has already approved a policy that will require elementary students to wear masks indoors when they return for in-person learning next week.

But with new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continuing to rise in the Kansas City region — spurred by the more contagious Delta variant — other Johnson County school districts have begun re-evaluating their COVID-19 plans.

The details: The meeting is set to start at 5 p.m. on Thursday at the boardroom at the Center for Academic Achievement.

A district statement noted that four board members are currently out of town and will join the meeting remotely.

Seating in the boardroom, as it has been for months, will be limited and spaced out to decrease potential spread of COVID-19.

Masks will be required for attendees who are not fully vaccinated, according to the district.

Key quote: “Our teachers return to the buildings on Friday and the [Johnson] County Commission is meeting on Thursday. We’ll consider anything the county has adopted, that we may need to be in compliance with. We want updates and plans in place to be ready before all the educators are in the following day,” Board President Heather Ousley said in a statement to the Shawnee Mission Post Wednesday.

In addition, students are set to begin returning to school on Thursday, Aug. 12.

Current SMSD plans: At it’s regular meeting last month, the SMSD board approved a COVID-19 mitigation plan that would require elementary students — who are nearly all currently ineligible to be vaccinated — to wear masks in most indoor situations at school and on school buses going to and from school.

SMSD’s current plan, however, does not require masks for middle and high school students. Instead, the district will strongly encourage older students to wear masks at schools.

Other districts: On Monday, the board of education in USD 232 in De Soto narrowly approved a plan to make masking universally required in its facilities, including all students, staff and visitors.

That reversed an earlier plan to make masks optional.

Meanwhile, the Blue Valley school board is likely to revisit its “return to learn” plan at its regularly scheduled meeting next week, after nearly 200 doctors signed an open letter urging that district to institute a universal masking policy, too, over its current plan to make masks optional.

Larger context: School districts are not the only local governmental bodies struggling with how to manage a late-summer surge in new cases.

The Prairie Village City Council is expected to review a draft ordinance at its next meeting later this month that would institute a citywide mask order for most indoor public spaces.

And the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners is set to take up a proposed public health order at its regular Thursday meeting that would require universal masking in all elementary schools in the county — public and private.

The latest COVID numbers: New COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Johnson County, with the county’s percent positivity now at 8.5%.

More than 1,600 new cases of COVID-19 have been reported in the past two weeks, according to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment.

Still, Johnson County remains the most vaccinated county in the region, with nearly 70% of eligible residents fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

But local public health officials have expressed concern that school buildings could be potentially ripe vectors for spread since most children have not been vaccinated.

JCDHE says roughly 14% of children 17 and younger in Johnson County are currently vaccinated against COVID-19.