Blue Valley to make masks optional for high schoolers starting after Thanksgiving

Blue Valley masks

Blue Valley high schoolers will no longer be mandated to wear a mask to school starting Nov. 29. Masking will be optional for high schools as long as each school's percentage of combined isolations and quarantines remains less than 3% among faculty and students. File image.

Blue Valley has become the latest public school district in Johnson County to opt to roll back mask requirements for some students.

The Blue Valley school board voted Monday to make masks optional for high school students and students in the district’s CAPS programs starting Monday, Nov. 29, the day students return from Thanksgiving break.

All Blue Valley students have been required to wear masks at school since the start of the fall semester. The mandate will remain in place for students in elementary and middle schools.

Monday’s vote follows recent decisions to roll back mask requirements for high schools in Olathe and USD 232 in De Soto.

Shawnee Mission still requires all students, staff and visitors to wear masks at all its facilities.

Amended policy for high schools

Starting Nov. 29, masking will be optional in high schools as long as each school’s percentage of combined isolations and quarantines remains less than 3% among faculty and students.

If a school exceeds that 3% threshold, then masking will become mandatory for at least two weeks.

Masking would only become optional once more when the affected school is able to remain below that designated 3% for two straight weeks.

Blue Valley Superintendent Tonya Merrigan said the board decided to revise the mask mandate now for a handful of reasons, including:

She said COVID-19 transmission rates in both the district and Johnson County more broadly have decreased, while rates of vaccinations have continued to increase.

Currently, the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment reports that more than 71% of eligible residents have received their first shot of a COVID-19 vaccine, the highest rate in the Kansas City metro.

Vaccinations are also now available for children ages 5 to 11 years old.

Merrigan also noted that the district’s isolation and exclusion numbers — which track the number of students and faculty impacted by positive cases — has remained low.

For the most recent reporting period, which ended Wednesday, Nov. 3, the district reported 25 positive cases among students and staff and 27 quarantines, out of a total student population of more than 22,500.

Additionally, Merrigan pointed out that the district has implement the “test to stay” program which allows even asymptomatic students to test daily following a possible exposure in order to stay in school.

Ultimately, the board voted 6-1 on Monday to amend the mask rule. The lone vote in dissent was Northwest area board member Patrick Hurley.

“I think it’s important that we follow the science,” Hurley said, explaining his vote. “And if the [county] health department’s not recommending removing masks, I think we should delay it.”

Board discussion

Though the final vote was nearly unanimous, multiple board members did express concern that the November date was still too soon to relax masking.

“I like the concept of going through finals and not having to mess with [the mandate],” Jodie Dietz, representing a seat in the BV South area, said. “I still have concerns about Thanksgiving and it just being a hair too soon.”

Stacy Obringer-Varhall, a BV Northwest area board member, said she also was not thrilled with the chosen date.

Nevertheless, she said she would accept it with the understanding that the administration can revert back to a mask mandate quickly if an outbreak occurs.

Elementary and middle schools in the district will still remain under a mask mandate, which is required by a countywide public health order that remains in place.

“It is not recommended that we would do anything at elementary and middle school because that’s a county mandate, and we would wait for the county to make any changes to that at this point,” Merrigan said.