Parents rally, Shawnee Mission sticking with masks for rest of school year

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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — As some area students went to school without masks for the first time since the start of pandemic, Shawnee Mission students and parents demanded the same in a rally last night.

Shawnee and Mission residents gathered where the school board had its final meeting of the school year, but masks weren’t on the agenda, and no changes were made.

Tempers flared. Protester Scott Bozarth threw his mask he had to wear to come into the meeting toward the board as he finished his public comment and left the room.

“I’m here to inform you as of tomorrow, May 18, my kids will be walking into class again and joining their classmates. I’m not asking anyone for permission,” Ruby Gonzalez said of her decision to no longer have her children follow district policy on wearing masks.

Lee’s Summit, Blue Springs and Oak Grove all ditched mask mandates over the weekend after metro health orders were rescinded. Other districts have been hesitant to follow, and Wyandotte County has maintained it’s mask order.

Before the board meeting, two groups – one against masks, and a much smaller one for them – rallied along 71st Street.

“I fought to get my kids back in school in person. Now that they are, I want them to be able to breathe,” parent Jean Lucas said.

The pro-mask group, none of which were parents, sent a flier to the FOX4 newsroom with the same SMSD Strong logo some of the board members were wearing Monday.

“There’s no reason to ruin the summer because some idiot wants to tell their kids to take off their masks for the last bit of school,” Loreen Damewood, a Shawnee grandmother of children outside the district said.

Damewood, Patty Newkirk and another man who made up half the group said they were on a Zoom call with Shawnee Mission School Board President Heather Ousley Sunday night, who told them about the rally. Ousley told FOX4 the call was in relation to the fears teachers within the district are facing as other districts around the area lift mask mandates.

“I can only imagine what it’s like for a staff member having to face taking off masks or being in a classroom with kids that didn’t have masks, the lack of safety they pose, just how frightening that would be,” Newkirk, a retired Emporia teacher, said.

“It’s not okay to suffocate the children,” Debbie Detmer, a Shawnee Mission grandparent, said.

“It’s obvious we’ve got a split community. We’ve got some folks demanding that we keep the mask mandates in place and other’s telling us we should have been done with them six months ago. That’s always been the case, and probably will continue to be. Again we’ll trust the science,” David Smith, SMSD Chief Communications Officer, said.

Smith said many have misinterpreted the CDC guidance as it’s okay to get rid of masks, when it actually encourages masks for the unvaccinated. Shawnee Mission students age 12-15 only recently became eligible for Pfizer vaccines and won’t be fully vaccinated under the guidance until after the completion of the school year.  

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