Roeland Park has agreed to allow Bishop Miege High School to continue its optional face mask policy until Jan. 7 for all students, faculty, staff and visitors, with some restrictions.
By a 5-4 vote, with Mayor Mike Kelly breaking the tie, the Roeland Park City Council on Monday night approved a memorandum of understanding, effective immediately, allowing Miege to continue its mask policy, which it had implemented Sept. 20.
Also on Monday, the city council voted unanimously to extend the citywide mask mandate, which was set to expire Tuesday, to 12:01 a.m. on Nov. 16.
In supporting the extension, Kelly noted that neighboring jurisdictions, including Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, Kan., have mask mandates in place into early November.
“As we can see from the data, cases are getting better,” Kelly said. “At the same time, there are other areas around us that do have masking requirements that remain in place.”
Miege’s amended mask policy, which makes mask-wearing among students, staff and visitors optional, prompted a discussion last month among Roeland Park city officials, some of whom contended the school was violating the city’s resolution requiring masks in nearly all spaces accessible to the public.
The city’s mask resolution took effect Aug. 24. Roeland Park was the second Johnson County city after Prairie Village to enact such a mandate in the absence of a countywide order.
The Prairie Village City Council on Monday opted to allow that city’s current mask order expire on Oct. 31.
Roeland Park’s MOU with Miege requires the school to calculate every Monday the percentage of new COVID-19 cases at the school in the prior seven days relative to Miege’s population.
Using guidelines from the CDC, Miege will require face masks only if the number of new cases constitutes 8% or more of its population.
Miege reports its COVID-19 case numbers every Friday.
Four new cases, or 0.5% of the school’s population, were reported from Oct. 11 through Oct. 15, all of which were traced to an activity outside the classroom.
The MOU also requires Miege to do the following:
- promote vaccinations
- seek to maintain at least 3 feet of physical distancing
- provide screening and testing for all students, faculty and staff under specific circumstances
- and adhere to other prevention methods.
Asked after the meeting how the city would verify Miege’s compliance with the MOU, Kelly told the Shawnee Mission Post the city would do so “by compliance and cooperation reporting by the Miege community and continuing conversations.”
“Miege is an important partnership and has a longstanding leadership role within this community,” Kelly said during the meeting. “We understand that they continue to do the best that they can in the formation of students, and we appreciate their consideration and partnership on myriad topics, not the least of which is keeping our community safe.”
Councilmembers Jan Faidley, Jennifer Hill, Jim Kelly and Michael Rebne voted against the MOU.
Hill said she was concerned about some of the agreement’s wording.
“It talks about (Miege) will ‘promote physical distancing to the extent possible,’” Hill said. “It gives far too much freedom to disregard the rulings. It also talks about ‘within the structures of the school’ … when this really needs to read ‘all school functions.’”
Hill also expressed concerns about the MOU’s stating that opening multiple doors and windows would improve ventilation, which she said would be unsafe because it would leave buildings unsecured, and about whether 3 feet of physical distancing would be adequate, given that the CDC recommends a minimum of 3 feet combined with masks indoors for schools.
“Without masks, schools have higher cases,” she said. “We can’t just keep hoping that this is going to go away. Hope is not a strategy. Masking works and we know it works.”
Miege President Randy Salisbury said in an emailed statement that “the school will endeavor to require three feet of social distancing when possible, continue to promote vaccinations and test staff and students who have been exposed to the virus or are showing symptoms of COVID, among other steps recommended by the CDC.”
Faidley questioned why Miege wasn’t considering community COVID-19 transmission rates in its calculations, given that “they’re part of our community” and “they maintain that the few cases they’ve had have come from outside of the school setting.”
City Attorney Steve Mauer responded that the city had an “extensive discussion” with Miege about community transmissibility rates.
“Their position, and quite honestly I think it’s well-founded, is that unlike Walmart or some other business, they know who’s coming into their school,” Mauer said. “They can track the students, the staff. … They know how long they’re there and … they are able to identify the exposure rate far different than someone just in our general community.”
Councilmember Jim Kelly called the MOU “very pro-Bishop Miege” and said “I don’t see any teeth” in it.
“How do we know that they’re complying with the testing or cases?” he said.
The MOU says that upgrading the HVAC or air-filtration system, “if economically feasible,” can help improve ventilation, which reduces virus particles’ concentration.
Councilmember Kelly said the “if economically feasible” language meant “they’re putting cost before the student population.”
Rebne said the MOU “doesn’t really get that specific as to what Bishop Miege will do, and then when it does attempt to get specific, it says ‘Miege will endeavor to’ and it never quite gets all the way there to say that Miege will actually do this thing, and here’s how we can know.”