Johnson County commissioners vote to require masks for all K-6th grade schools

Tracking Coronavirus

OLATHE, Kan. — Johnson County commissioners voted 5-2 Thursday afternoon to mandate masks for all elementary schools.

The board voted to require masking for all students through 6th grade in local school districts. Faculty and staff at elementary schools would also be required to wear masks. The new mask rule will apply in both public and private schools.

It gets more complicated when addressing middle schools. The new mask rule says: “This requirement includes children in higher grades who attend school in buildings where children in 6th or lower grades also attend school unless 6th graders are physically separated from higher grades throughout the school day.”

Shawnee Mission School District has already mandated masking for elementary schools, but vaccinated teachers can opt out of masking. De Soto School District also voted this week that all staff and students, regardless of age or vaccination status, will wear masks at school.

But now the question remains how districts like Blue Valley and Olathe will react to the commissioners’ decision. Last month, Blue Valley’s board voted that masks would be optional for all students and staff.

The mask mandate will begin Monday and last until the end of May 2022, unless amended or replaced by future county commission action.

Public health officials say masks will ensure kids receive in-person education. The county said it’s conservatively seeking to protect students who don’t have access to the vaccines.

Parents rallied outside the commissioners meeting, and nearly 100 people signed up to speak Thursday morning at the commissioners meeting with passionate parents split on the matter.

Nearly 30 people spoke via Zoom, and most of those were Blue Valley parents and physicians who support the mask requirement, many of them saying it doesn’t go far enough.

Some speakers wanted a universal mask mandate for all K-12 students and adults while inside school buildings.

Schools that have already opened without masks in Arkansas, Mississippi and elsewhere in the Deep South already are reporting outbreaks, where hundreds of students have had to be quarantined.

But that’s not swaying mask opponents who say public health leaders are tyrants.

“As of last week, my wife and I pulled our kids out of Shawnee Mission public schools,” Tim McCabe, of Lenexa, told commissioners. “We’re done with the masks! We’re done with the fear! As for me and my house, we serve God and you should serve the public.”

Hospitals across the metro area continue to be full, with intensive care units stretched to their limits.

On Friday, chief medical officers from hospitals across the region are expected to brief the public on what they call a “critical health care situation” brought on by spread of the Delta variant, which doctors say is impacting emergency care and surgeries for other health issues.

Medical leaders are expected to call for more action, more intervention to stop the spread of the virus.

FOX4 will have more coverage of this meeting and reaction from school districts and parents on FOX4 News at 5 p.m.

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