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OLATHE, Kan. — In three weeks, the Johnson County Board of Commissioners will review and potentially repeal county-wide masking requirements for K-6 students.

In August, the commission approved an ordinance that requires masking for all students through 6th grade in local school districts. That ordinance is set to expire in May if it’s not amended or repealed by future commission action. 

On Thursday the BOCC voted 2-5 to reject a motion to end the mandate early and leave the decision for masking requirements up to individual school districts. The motion was supported by Commissioner Charlotte O’Hara and Commissioner Michael Ashcraft.

Shortly after, the commission voted 7-0 in favor of reviewing data on vaccination and COVID infection rates in the community at the commission’s next meeting on Jan. 6. No formal language has been submitted for a repeal of the current masking ordinance. 

The mask mandate discussion comes two days after the commission received a letter from 26 county elected officials asking to end the mandate early

Carol Pratt spoke to the commission virtually to share support for the current masking requirement for K-6 students. 

“We all need to respect the expertise of our scientists and public health officials and also to value individual needs. Each of us has a responsibility to take care of our community,” Pratt said. “Partisan politics does not have a place with community health. Partisan politics is the mental disorder in our society.” 

Debbie Detmer said she doesn’t feel the PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests are an adequate way to determine COVID infection rates and masking should be an individual decision. 

“Testing has to stop being our monitoring tool. What are the death rates in Kansas, and in Johnson County? I mean COVID-only deaths, COVID-only, and what ages [of the deceased]? That’s what I want to know,” Detmer said. “We need every single person breathing fresh air that wants that choice and the ones that want to mask, let them mask. The ones that want to vac[innate] let them vacs. Make our own choices.” 

Claire Reagan said, at a minimum, she would like to see masking requirements remain as a buffer as more students wait to be vaccinated over winter break. 

“While quite a few kids have been vaccinated, early demand for the vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds meant that some are still awaiting that second shot, as well as the 14-day period following,” Reagan said. “To accommodate those kids who are getting their vaccines while out of school, it would make sense to have a buffer period with masks after the break.” 

According to the Johnson County COVID-19 dashboard, roughly 17% of children ages 5-11 were fully vaccinated and 30% were partially vaccinated as of Dec. 13. 

Richard O’Neill said he feels it should be up to individual families to determine if their children should wear masks. 

“Mask mandates which require masks to cover the nose, mouth, cheeks, cheekbones, chin and jaw will obliterate social connection with teachers, fellow students, and most importantly their own respective sense of self,”O’Neill said.  

The BOCC will review data on COVID-19 infection rates and current vaccination numbers during the next regular meeting on Thursday, Jan. 6 at 9:30 a.m.