Bishop Miege High School implemented a new policy Monday that makes wearing face masks in the school optional for students, faculty and staff.
The move sparked a discussion among Roeland Park city officials, who say the school’s amended policy goes against the city’s order that masks be worn in nearly all indoor public settings.
Bishop Miege President Randy Salisbury told the Shawnee Mission Post that “a lot went into the decision” to make masks optional.
School officials looked at factors including Johnson County and Jackson County, Mo., statistics on rates of positive cases in the past two weeks and the vaccination rate among Miege’s students and staff, which officials say is now nearly 70%.
School officials also “considered the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual effects” of wearing masks, Salisbury added.
New policy’s details
Everyone in the school is still required to bring a mask daily in case circumstances require wearing it, such as assemblies and pep activities, Bishop Miege says.
The school’s administration said in a letter to Miege parents Friday that it would “continue to monitor COVID cases and will not hesitate to return to masks should there be compelling reasons to do so.”
“As communicated previously, the wearing of masks and vaccinations has elicited passionate emotions,” the administration’s letter stated. “There are strong viewpoints on these issues with opinions that do not always see eye to eye with our neighbor. Yet, through all difficult situations, our community has always united in a partnership of mutual respect. Miege Stags live as brothers and sisters in Christ, encouraging one another, and striving for harmony.”
Miege says it will also continue providing rapid COVID tests to unvaccinated students and those with close contact with someone who has tested positive, so they may stay in school instead of being quarantined.
Tested students must wear a mask during the seven-day testing period.
The Roeland Park City Council discussed Miege’s new policy at its meeting Monday night in the context of talking about the city’s current mask order.
Last month, the city council issued a citywide mask resolution, which took effect Aug. 24 and is currently set to expire Oct. 19.
It made Roeland Park the second Johnson County city to enact a citywide mask mandate, following Prairie Village, which instituted a similar measure that took effect Aug. 24. The Prairie Village City Council on Monday extended its mask mandate to Oct. 31.
On Monday, Ward 1 Councilmember Tom Madigan asked whether the city’s mask resolution was “a law or is it a suggestion?”
“This resolution does require wearing indoor masks in any public space in the city of Roeland Park,” Mayor Mike Kelly replied. “It is an operation of law for the city, yes.”
Madigan said he was “amazed” by the number of letters the city council had received about Miege’s new policy.
“The only people that ever come to my door or spoke to me are health professionals,” Madigan said. “They all wear masks all the time. How far are you proposing that we go with this (resolution)? Are you going to have policemen going out and enforcing it at Bishop Miege?”
Kelly replied that the first step continued to be educating the public, including Miege’s administration, about the resolution and making it clear “in no uncertain terms” that the resolution applies in all places in the city.
The city has had and will continue to have discussions with Miege officials about its new mask policy, he said.
“The roots of our community partnership with Bishop Miege High School, they run deep,” Kelly said. “They have been mutually beneficial for decades.”
Asked after the meeting whether he thought Miege was wrong to have implemented the optional mask policy, Kelly said he thought “the best thing we can do is continue with the success we’ve had with high schools in northeast Johnson County. I would hope they would continue to require masks. I think it’s the right thing to do.”
All but one public school district in Johnson County requires universal masking. The Kansas City Star reported Tuesday that of the five districts requiring masks, the districts are averaging 3 COVID-19 cases per 1,000 students since the start of the new school year.
As for Miege, the school’s Director of Development Molly Peterson said the school does not share “specific numbers” regarding COVID-19 cases, but she added that they have had “no new cases in the past 10 days.”
At Monday’s meeting, Ward 2 Councilmember Jennifer Hill read aloud several letters she said came from Miege parents and students expressing concern about the school’s new policy.
All the writers, she said, wished to remain anonymous because they feared retaliation.
One student Hill quoted wrote, “Having required masks at school helped me feel safe and like I was able to somewhat protect my younger siblings who are too young to get vaccinated.”
One parent whose message she read aloud from wrote, “It … concerns me that Miege is outwardly demonstrating to students that they are above the law and can pick and choose which laws they wish to follow. I say all of this as a practicing Catholic. I believe that we are all called to protect all of God’s children, especially the most vulnerable.”
Another parent of an eighth grader and high school students wrote, “We feel that the school’s decision was motivated by pressure from those who have loudly opposed any type of mitigation. We also believe that a private school that benefits from the tax dollars spent on community services has an obligation to follow the laws and ordinances of that jurisdiction.”
The Post asked Kelly whether the council had the power through home rule authority to require Miege to mandate wearing masks in school.
“Yes, we believe we do,” Kelly said. “We’ll have the legal counsel provide an opinion that confirms that if we choose to go that route.”
A lawyer representing the city later underlined Kelly’s stance with the Post in a follow-up phone conversation, saying that a “resolution absolutely has the force of law.”
Editor’s Note: Information about Bishop Miege’s vaccination rate and the number of COVID-19 cases the school says it has dealt with were added after the original publication of this story.