The Shawnee Mission School District will require all students at all grade levels to wear masks inside schools when they return to class next week.
It’s a major change from the district’s previous policy, which required masks only for elementary students. SMSD joins USD 232 in requiring all students and adults to wear masks in its buildings for the 2021-22 school year.
The SMSD board of education adopted a universal mask policy Thursday evening during a special board meeting, called ahead of teachers returning to work on Friday, Aug. 6, for pre-service training.
Shawnee Mission’s decision came hours after the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners voted to mandate masks for all elementary students.
Superintendent Michelle Hubbard reminded the board of a recent online survey of students, families and district patrons, in which the Shawnee Mission community expressed its priority of keeping kids in school.
“Research would tell us that masking our kids last year kept kids in school, as popular as it may be or not be,” Hubbard said. “With that being said, we absolutely want to keep kids in school.”
The district’s new policy can be read in full here and contains the following key provisions:
- The new rule applies to all “adults and children” in all district facilities.
- Masking will be in place indefinitely “until such a time as all students have the opportunity to be fully vaccinated and community transmission levels decrease.”
- Masks will not be required outdoors, including at recess.
- As with SMSD’s previous policy, masks will be required on all buses going to and from school.
- There are exceptions, including those with “a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that prevents wearing a face covering.” But the district says “documentation” will be needed to earn such an exemption.
- Those who are deaf or hard of hearing can also go unmasked.
Shawnee Mission administrators brought the board of education two alternative COVID-19 mitigation proposals to consider Thursday night.
One closely mirrored the board’s July 26 decision to require masks in elementary schools, but modified it to require staff to wear masks in elementary buildings.
Hubbard said that was in line with the county commission’s decision to require universal masking inside all elementary school buildings in the county.
The second alternative followed the first but added grades 7 through 12 to masking requirements.
At-large board member Brad Stratton said he logged onto the meeting fully prepared to support the first proposal because of the county’s mandate.
Stratton asked his fellow board members for clarification on the support for universal masking considering “the county just gave us backbone to go to our principals, go to our teachers and say we can enforce something now.”
SM West Area board member Laura Guy motioned to approve the proposal for universal masks at all grade levels.
Guy said new CDC guidance coupled with increasing spread of new cases and hospitalizations in the Kansas City region were contributing factors for her to support a broader mask mandate.
“For me, this felt like the best way to have the most successful launch to our school year,” Guy said.
Jamie Borgman, SM Northwest area board member, asked for clarification on how difficult it would be to keep secondary kids in school if no mandate for older kids were approved.
Shelby Rebeck, the district’s health service coordinator who is also a nurse, laid out a hypothetical scenario that raised the possibility that even a single positive case in a secondary school — where kids travel from class to class with different groups of kids — could lead to dozens of other kids getting quarantined at home.
Exposed students would need to quarantine for at least eight days and test on day six.
If negative, the students would be allowed back in the classroom on day eight, Rebeck said.
Additionally, Board President Heather Ousley said a law passed by the Kansas Legislature this past spring “makes it very difficult for” the district to resort to virtual schooling if transmission occurs at a building.
At the end of the meeting, Borgman reminded socially distanced members of the public in the room that the decision for universal masking comes from the board and to give grace to teachers, staff and administration.
That plea was met with some heckling.
“This is not anything we signed up for, and this is impossibly hard,” Borgman said. “I’m just asking for our community to please place the blame on the board and not teachers, building administration or any other staff.”
Shawnee Mission’s mask policy does include an “until further notice” clause that would allow the board to revisit it at a later time.