KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Johnson County Board of County Commissioners passed a mask mandate for kindergarten through 6th grade students.
Public health officials recommended that county commissioners adopt an order that would mandate masks in public and private schools for students up to and including those in 6th grade. It would also require masking for children younger than kindergarten if they are inside school buildings.
The measure passed by a 5-2 margin.
The order includes students and staff in such environments.
More than 90 people had signed up to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting. All were allowed to speak for two minutes, some virtually and others in-person.
Among concerns of those against the mandate were those who said the board was indulging in "political theater" and teaching children they are not in charge of their own bodies.
Kansas State Sen. Cindy Holscher of Overland Park spoke at Thursday's meeting in favor of the mandate.
She compared COVID-19 to children playing on railroad tracks.
“If the train is coming, I beg you to do the right thing: get the kids off the track,” she said.
Holscher pointed out the risk to children who are not yet able to receive the vaccine.
“We’ve opened up the world and kids under 12 can’t get vaccinated. Who do you think will bear the brunt the disease now?” she asked.
Holscher was booed on her way out as she put on her mask, according to KSHB 41 News crews at the meeting. Board Chairman Ed Eilert asked attendees to exhibit some decorum.
"Let’s act like adults, perhaps. We will have different opinions and we need to respect those opinions,” Eilert said.
Public comment concluded shortly before 1:30 p.m.
District 3 Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara was vocal in her opposition to the mandate during board discussion.
“COVID is taking the oxygen out of every other issue that should go before this board… It’s time for us to get on with the business of life” O’Hara said.
Eilert and others did not support an amendment introduced by District 4 Commissioner Janeé Hanzlick to expand the mandate to pre-K through 12th grade students.
The final motion to adopt the public health order passed with only Commissioners O'Hara and Michael Ashcroft opposing.
Ashcraft noted he was in favor of tabling the mandate in favor of discussion with local school districts.
“I think the commission relied significantly on the professional medical advice that we received throughout the metro area in regards to approaches that need to be made in order to mitigate the spread," Eilert said.
At a commission meeting last month, Eilert said he was opposed to a mask mandate, but was also concerned about children who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.
Dr. Sanmi Areola, with the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, told the commission at Thursday's meeting that the county’s COVID-19 positivity rate was at 8.4%, up slightly from 7.9% at last month's meeting. He also said infections and hospitalizations were increasing among the unvaccinated.
The Kansas City Medical Society recommended on Wednesday that school districts institute universal masking in classrooms, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.