OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — Shawnee Mission School District elementary-aged students will be required to wear masks during the upcoming school year.
"We’ve all been placed in an extremely difficult situation and being left to be the only line of defense," Michelle Hubbard, superintendent of Shawnee Mission School District, said.
The SMSD Board of Education voted, 6-1, to approve a proposal that mandates masks for all elementary school students until they all are eligible to be vaccinated. Staff in elementary settings could opt-out of wearing a face covering if they are fully vaccinated.
Masking is not required outdoors, but anyone on a school bus would be required to mask up, regardless of vaccination status.
Outside visitors to elementary schools also would be required to wear a mask.
Some protesters who attended the meeting, but were not inside during the mask discussion, held signs up to the windows featuring the phrases "optional masks" and "parental rights."
"COVID and other serious illnesses are not going away," Sarah Crafton, whose children attend Shawnee Mission Northwest, said. "Do we mask forever? Our children need and deserve an in-person educational experience free of masks."
But Johnson County's epidemiologist Elizabeth Holzschuh said the delta variant is the game changer. Its qualities to infect more people at a fast pace puts the county in a precarious situation.
"These are rates we have not seen since we were coming down off of the big peak over winter," Holzschuh said. "Our present positive is something that we have not seen since last fall."
Debbie Detmer, whose grandchildren attend SMSD, said prior to the board meeting that protesting any time masks are a point of discussion will continue.
"Even if we get them to where we want tonight, if we get them optional, that doesn’t mean they won’t change their mind here by October, you know," Detmer said. "What needs to happen... I mean, no masking, no distancing, no contact tracing. No testing for sure. That’s gotta quit."
In the event of positive COVID-19 cases in the district, officials will notify the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment, whose employees will conduct contact tracing.
When Johnson County dropped its countywide mask mandate in the spring, SMSD elected to continue requiring masking.
The school district also was the subject of a lawsuit over mask mandates earlier this year, in which the courts sided with SMSD. Two parents alleged that the district's COVID-19 guidelines caused “psychological harm” to their children.
"We will get through this wave," Holzschuh said. "The one question becomes, 'How long does it take us to get through it?' And what that factor relies on is our community and what they choose to do."
A separate proposal discussed Monday night had recommended that anyone who is not vaccinated wear a mask. Vaccinated people do not have to wear a face covering.
"There's a lot of districts, and they've made a different decision from Shawnee Mission," Sean Claycamp, a SMSD parent said. "What's their decision going to look like in, you know, 30-45 days, if they don't have any problems? Then I really hope Shawnee mission revisits this."