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Education

Masking now optional at all Shawnee Mission schools after board modifies COVID-19 plan

A Shawnee Mission elementary student.
Juliana Garcia
/
Shawnee Mission Post
A Shawnee Mission elementary student.

The Shawnee Mission school board's new plan completely removes a requirement that schools bring back masks if 5% of students are absent due to illness — the threshold that prompted seven elementary schools to bring back universal masking earlier this month.

At a special meeting Monday night, the Shawnee Mission school board narrowly approved changes in the district’s COVID-19 mitigation plan.

The vote had the immediate effect of ending masking requirements at seven elementary schools that had brought them back in recent weeks due to high rates of student absences.

The new plan approved by the board Monday in a 4-3 vote completely removes a requirement that schools bring back masks if 5% of students at that school are absent due to illness.

That is the threshold that prompted seven elementary schools to bring back universal masking earlier this month.

The revised plan also increases another threshold that will trigger a school’s return to masking. Now, a school’s student absence rate specifically from COVID-19 must be 5% or higher, up from 3% under the previous policy.

A school must drop below 5% of COVID-related absences for one week before returning to optional masking under the new plan.

In addition to the plan that was ultimately approved, Superintendent Michelle Hubbard also presented the board with a second option that would have removed all masking requirements entirely, but the board did not discuss this alternative in depth.

Shawnee Mission first implemented its previous COVID-19 mitigation in early February.

That plan included the two separate thresholds that could trigger a return to masking at a school: either a 3% COVID-19 positivity rate or a 5% illness-related absenteeism rate.

The 5% threshold prompted six elementary schools back to masks the first week of April, and a seventh school was added on April 11, but it wasn’t clear how many of those schools’ absences were related to COVID-19.

SM Northwest area board member Jaime Borgman made a surprise motion at the board’s regular April 11 meeting to remove mask mandates at all schools regardless of the absentee rate.

Earlier this month, the Blue Valley school board rescinded a similar districtwide mask rule based student absences over some board members’ concerns that non-COVID-related absences were triggering a return to masking rules.

Borgman’s motion at the April 11 meeting failed, but the board agreed to revisit its COVID-19 mitigation plan at Monday’s special meeting.

Hubbard confirmed on April 18, following the approval of plan A, that every Shawnee Mission school currently masked will return to optional masking as of April 19.

No school is now at or above the new 5% COVID-19 threshold, she said.

It has never been a choice between good or bad, right or wrong,” Hubbard said during the special meeting, which she joined via phone. “Every choice we’ve made so far has had consequences. We have five weeks of school left, and again, our number one goal is to keep students safely learning in school.”

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