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Shawnee Mission School District requires all students to wear masks in schools through Feb. 15

Students at Crestview Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District.
Shawnee Mission Post
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Students at Crestview Elementary in the Shawnee Mission School District.

Shawnee Mission secondary students and staff will all be required to wear a mask as of Jan. 24. The board of education unanimously approved universal masking until Feb. 15, although it could be extended at the board's Feb. 14 meeting.

Shawnee Mission will require all students, staff and visitors to wear masks in all the district’s schools through at least Feb. 15.

The move approved by the board of education Monday night temporarily suspends the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan for the current semester.

That plan made masking optional in middle and high schools for the second semester but also put in place thresholds to determine whether individual schools needed to reimpose mask rules.

Before Monday, all middle and high schools had already re-instituted mask rules due to the high level of spread among students.

But Superintendent Michelle Hubbard said on Monday that temporarily moving to a universal rule for all buildings was needed because the district is no longer able to contact trace to get an accurate picture of spread inside buildings.

That’s a result of the county and state health departments cutting back on contact tracing efforts because the overwhelming number of new cases fueled by the Omicron variant have sapped resources.

The district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan “only works well,” Hubbard said, when the district can contact trace and identify quarantines with the help of the county health department.

All schools already required masks

In practice, Monday’s decision doesn’t have any immediate impact on the mask rules already being used in all SMSD schools.

Since the start of January, the district has said any middle or high school that reaches or surpasses a 3% COVID-19 positivity rate would reinstitute a masking rule for at least two weeks.

All 11 middle and high schools in the district have brought back mask rules since the return to in-person classes on Jan. 6 because their case rates all surpassed the 3% threshold.

Elementary schools are not impacted by any of this because they still must require universal masking under a countywide public health order.

Hubbard told the board Monday that district officials believe universal masking is what it will take “to keep students and staff at school safely” — the district’s number one priority, she said.

“To say it is disappointing that, once again, local school boards and school administrators are left to make decisions that should be made by the county and public health officials would be an understatement,” Hubbard said.

“Test to Stay” suspended

Hubbard said the “Test to Stay” program that is part of the district’s second semester COVID-19 mitigation plan is also paused at this time because it, too, cannot work without being able to determine quarantines with the help of the county health department.

Jamie Borgman, SM Northwest area board member, asked if Shawnee Mission was the only district considering going back to universal masking. Hubbard said she believed so.

While Shawnee Mission looked at using how other districts decide their thresholds — including factoring in attendance — the district doesn’t want to change its entire mitigation plan, Hubbard said.

The 3% threshold worked well with contact tracing, she said, and a temporary mask mandate keeps the underlying policy in place.

Sara Goodburn, SM North area board member, clarified that Shawnee Mission is the only district in Johnson County going back to universal masking. Other districts in the metro, however, are making similar decisions, she said.

“There are other districts that have gone back to universal masking in the Kansas City area,” Goodburn said. “I know we don’t live in a vacuum in Johnson County.”

Hubbard confirmed that the list of districts with universal mask mandates includes Kansas City, Kansas Public Schools.

The temporary universal mask mandate could be extended by the board of education at its Feb. 14 meeting.

The board of education unanimously approved universal masking, which went into effect on Jan. 24.

This story was originally published in the Shawnee Mission Post.

Juliana Garcia is a reporter with the Shawnee Mission Post.
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