Johnson County’s school mask order is now in effect — here’s what you need to know

SB 40

Elementary students in the Shawnee Mission School District will be required to wear masks in school this coming year. Many of the same mitigation protocols that were in place last year, like physical distancing and regular sanitization, will remain in place for younger kids, too. Above, SMSD elementary students in school last winter. File photo.

Note: The Shawnee Mission Post is making much of its local coverage of the coronavirus pandemic accessible to non-subscribers. (If you value having a news source covering the situation in our community, we hope you’ll consider subscribing here.)

Johnson County’s order requiring masks be worn inside all elementary schools in the county officially went into effect at midnight Monday.

The Board of County Commissioners approved the order Thursday after hours of emotional testimony from both supporters and critics of a mask mandate.

Along with students, all teachers, staff and visitors inside schools that enroll younger kids will be required to wear masks or face coverings.

But some public school districts in Johnson County are going further.

The Shawnee Mission School District, Olathe Schools and USD 232 in De Soto — all of which begin in-person classes later this week — will all require universal masking inside all their facilities, covering students at all grade levels.

Blue Valley, which opens its school year next week, so far says it will make masks required in its elementary and middle schools, in compliance with the county order, but will make masks optional in high schools.

Here are some important questions about the school mask orders in Johnson County answered:

Is my child impacted?

  • The county’s ruling covers all schools that serve students up to and including 6th grade, public and private.
  • So that means all children in Johnson County enrolled in pre-K through 6th grade will be required to wear a mask or face covering at all times unless actively eating or drinking inside school buildings.
  • Notably, the county’s policy also includes children in higher grades who attend school in buildings where children in 6th grade or younger also attend school, unless the older students are physically separated. This will apply most directly to middle schools that enroll grades 6-8 or private schools that enroll grade levels spanning elementary and secondary grades.
  • If your child is a student in SMSD, Olathe or USD 232, then regardless of their grade level, they will be required to wear a mask based on those districts’ own policies.
  • Also, all bus riders must wear a mask when riding on a school bus to and from school, unless documentation has been submitted to the school for a medical mask exemption.

Are there exceptions to the county’s mask rule?

  • Any individuals with a “medical condition, mental health condition, or a disability that prevents wearing a face covering” will be exempt from the county’s policy. (The school districts have also included similar exemption clauses in their policies.)
  • Students, faculty, and staff wanting an exemption will be asked to provide documentation of their condition that prevents them from wearing a mask to the appropriate school officials.
  • Anyone who is deaf or has difficulty hearing or is communicating with someone with a hearing impairment where the ability to see the mouth is essential for communication, is not required to wear a mask.
  • Any person “engaged in religious services, ceremonies, or activities” will also not have to wear a mask.
  • The county’s order also stipulates that an individual engaged in athletic activities inside school buildings should follow the Kansas State High Schools Activities Association guidelines or their school guidelines regarding mask wearing during physical or athletic activities.

How long does the county’s mask rule stay in effect?

  • The order goes into effect Monday, August 9, and will remain in effect through May 31, 2022.
  • The order may be amended, revoked, or replaced between now and then, and will likely depend on current COVID-19 case numbers and conditions around Johnson County and the Kansas City region.
  • The three major northern Johnson County school districts that have instituted universal masking policies have all said they plan to evaluate their restrictions regularly moving forward.

Will my child have to wear a mask at recess? At lunch?

  • In general, no. Children and staff can remove their face coverings while eating or drinking.
  • Also, unless otherwise required by the school, masks will also not have to be worn outside on school property. This includes students, faculty, and staff participating in recess.

What constitutes a mask or a face covering?

  • “Mask or other face covering,” according to the county order, means a covering of the nose and mouth that is secured to the head with ties, straps, or loops over the ears or is simply wrapped around the lower face.
  • A mask or other face covering may be factory-made, sewn by hand, or can be improvised from household items such as scarfs, bandanas, t-shirts, sweatshirts or towels, according to the county order.

What if my child is vaccinated? Do they still have to wear a mask?

  • Short answer: yes.
  • But remember, students younger than 12 currently are not eligible to be vaccinated, so the vast majority of elementary-age children can’t even get the vaccine right now (though emergency FDA authorization for vaccinating children could come soon.)
  • Still, even if a student is 12 years old and in grade 6, they are still required to wear a mask per the county’s order even if they are vaccinated.
  • For districts that require universal masking at all grade levels (including SMSD, Olathe and USD 232), students who are vaccinated will still be required to wear masks, unless they have exemptions.

Do I have to wear a mask if I go inside my child’s school? Even if I’m vaccinated?

  • Again: yes.
  • If you are visiting inside a school building that enrolls children in grades 6 and below, you will need to wear a mask or face covering, regardless of vaccination status, according to the county’s order.
  • Masks are not required for activities that take place outside. Therefore, any sports practice or after-school activity taking place outside does not require parents or spectators to wear a mask, thought you should check with your child’s school district to see if they have a different policy.