KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Turner USD 202 Board of Education unanimously voted Tuesday to require masks in all district facilities, changing course amid a wave of positive cases and quarantines only six days into the new school year.
The school board approved the 2021-2022 Education ReStart Turner Plan at its Aug. 3 meeting, which “strongly recommended” masks be worn inside school buildings and other district facilities.
The board voted 7-0 at its meeting Tuesday “to change the mask policy wording from strongly recommended to required for all individuals in school buildings with flexibility for those participating in athletics. The only exemptions to the mask policy will be medical exemption signed by a doctor,” according to the published agenda.
The new mandatory mask policy takes effect Thursday.
In a letter to families, the Turner Unified School District said the change was necessary because “we are experiencing positive cases in our buildings, and as a result, there is already a significant amount of quarantines of unvaccinated, unmasked individuals.”
The district’s goal is to keep as many students as possible in-person, but less than a week after school started absences due to positive cases and quarantines were starting to mount.
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Turner currently has 27 COVID-19 positives in the district, 23 students and four staff members, but the bigger issue has been close contacts who need to quarantine.
“The need to quarantine unvaccinated, unmasked individuals is not sustainable for our staff and is taking too many students out of our classrooms ...,” the district said in a letter to parents. “Regardless of individual views on masking, we believe our families want their children to be in school, and this change will better our ability to keep classrooms and schools open.”
Under the new Turner school district policy, students who are wearing a mask and are identified as a close contact will not be required to quarantine in most cases.
There are three options for students required to quarantine based on the district’s ReStart Turner Plan. Unmasked and unvaccinated individuals who are close contacts must:
- Quarantine at home for 10 days;
- Quarantine at home for seven days, returning early with a negative COVID-19 test; or
- Remain in school, wearing a mask and submitting to daily COVID-19 saliva testing administered free of charge by the district
Dozens of unvaccinated and unmasked students who haven't tested positive currently already have been required to quarantine under the policy, including many who have chosen the third option and have remained in school with a mask.
The need for school nurses to perform daily rapid testing on those students has become taxing for school nurses "who have other non-COVID medical needs to attend to," the district said. Mandatory masking will help ease that burden and keep more students in classrooms.
"By having all individuals masked inside our buildings, we will be able to significantly reduce the need to implement quarantines, which will result in fewer interruptions to academics, activities, athletics, and other services," Aiello said via email to KSHB 41.
Students who exhibit symptoms of COVID-19 infection or who test positive for COVID-19 are required to quarantine at home for 10 days past the onset of symptoms or 72 hours after being fever-free, whichever is longer.
Lauren Aiello, a spokeswoman for the Turner School District, said most students wore masks under the initial policy that strongly recommended them.
“The majority of our students did wear masks,” she said. “At the elementary level, we estimated 80% of those kids were wearing masks.”
But that didn’t prevent enough close contacts to positive COVID-19 cases.
“Our board wanted to give it a try and hope that personal responsibility would be enough, but based on our quarantine numbers, it hasn’t been,” Aiello said.
She said the response from parents to the new mask mandate largely has been positive.
Students in first through fifth grades started the 2021-22 school year with a half-day on Aug. 10 and 11, while students in sixth, seventh and ninth grades started school on Aug. 11. All students were in class for a full day beginning Aug. 12.
41 News spoke with families picking up their kids Wednesday from a couple of Turner Unified School District schools who shared they are happy about the district's latest decision regarding masks.
"We prefer the masks to keep them protected cause they can’t get the shot at this age. So having them wear their mask like they are supposed to is a good thing," said Debra Essex, a grandmother.
Mother Christi White also agrees that masking is beneficial.
" I think it's actually a good idea," White said. "My daughter has been wearing it since the first day of school, so that's what she is going to continue to do."
Turner’s experience could be a harbinger for other districts trying to start the school year without a mask requirement. Here is adetailed list of Kansas City-area school district mask policies.
There are approximately 4,000 students in the Turner Unified School District.