OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — The school mask debate continued Monday at the Blue Valley Board of Education meeting. On the agenda was the return-to-school plan and masks.
As in most other school districts, there is a pretty deep line drawn into the sand between parents who believe masking is the way to keep kids in school and others who say enough is enough.
“My kids always complain about the masks being uncomfortable, they complain about not being able to hear,” said Blue Valley parent Tie Bleish, who has four children in the Blue Valley School District, at every level from elementary to high school.
After last week’s Johnson County Board of Commissioners vote to require masking for all students pre-K through 6th grade, Blue Valley instituted a mask mandate for K-8 in its schools, but high schoolers were not included.
“In my mind you’re penalizing the students and you’re penalizing the teachers,” Bleish said. “As if they don’t have enough to do now, now they’ve got to be the mask police, so to me it’s ridiculous.”
Blue Valley parent Victor Wishna doesn’t think masking is as big of a controversy as it seems. He is part of what he calls the silent majority of parents who support mask mandates in school.
“We haven’t spoken out because, especially when it comes to Blue Valley, we’ve trusted our local leaders to do the right thing to keep our kids safe, but apparently now they need to hear from us,” Wishna said.
Wishna believes Blue Valley has been a leader in the pandemic, but is falling behind as the outlier not requiring masks for high school students. 57.1% of Johnson Countians are fully vaccinated. That number drops to 40% in children 12 to 17.
“I mean, nobody likes wearing the mask. I complain about it but everything is a choice,” Wishna said. “It’s just a question of whether we’re going to come together to do the right thing.”
Doing the right thing is something Wishna and Bleish agree on. Not regarding the mask mandates, but how to avoid the debate all together.
“The kids aren’t the ones to blame. It’s the adults that haven’t gotten vaccinated,” Bleish said. “I mean if it wasn’t for all the adults who could get vaccinated that aren’t, we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.”
In Arkansas, the mask-optional Marion School District has more than 800 students and staff in quarantine, just days after classes began.
“Wearing masks is not something we want do, but it is simple and it is temporary,” Wishna said. “If we get it in place now. It has to be the plan because there is no plan B.”
Parents got the option for 100% virtual schooling during enrollment last spring, but for students who chose in-person learning, the options for a quarantine aren’t easy. Kansas lawmakers made changes that means remote learning is not a ‘plan B’ for students who chose in-person learning for the year. If a student ends up in quarantine, they cannot just go virtual.