Johnson County Community College changes policy, will require masks indoors on campus

Johnson County Community College announced Monday that starting Tuesday, Aug. 17, masks will be required inside most indoor public spaces on the college's Overland Park campus. That is a change from the previous policy heading into a school year that strongly encouraged masks. File photo.

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Beginning Tuesday, Aug. 17, Johnson County Community College will again require masks indoors for any individual inside its facilities.

It’s a change from the college’s previously stated return-to-campus plan, which only recommended masks be worn on campus.

The college’s decision to revise its masking policy comes just ahead of the start of the fall semester on August 23, when students will return to in-person classes at the Overland Park campus.

A policy change

On Monday, JCCC officials sent an email to staff saying, in part, “JCCC will again require masks indoors starting August 17, 2021. This is similar to past requirements that were effective in preserving our learning environment and protecting us all.”

The email came from the JCCC executive policy group led by college president Andy Bowne, Ed.D., and is similar to previous masking requirements that were in place during the 2020-21 academic year.

JCCC’s decision to re-instate mask rules on its campus comes as new cases in the Kansas City region continue their sharp upward trend, driven by the contagious Delta variant.

On Monday, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard showed that Johnson County’s incidence rate of new cases stood at 375 per 100,000, and its percent positivity hovered at 9.5%. Both metrics are at levels not seen in Johnson County since early January, before mass vaccination had begun.

All major K-12 public school districts in Johnson County have instituted universal mask requirements for their campuses.

The University of Kansas is also requiring masks be worn indoors at both its main Lawrence campus and its Edwards campus in Overland Park.

And on Monday night, Prairie Village became the first Johnson County city to implement a citywide mask mandate.

Lee Cross, a JCCC trustee, elaborated on the decision in a Facebook post on his personal account:

“Requiring masks may not be fun, or your first choice, and I do apologize for the pressure and public campaigning about requiring masks, yet I believe we have made the right call,” Cross said. “This is in line (with) what our K-12 and other institutions of higher learning are doing in the country.”

Policy details

Starting Tuesday, Aug. 17, masks will be again be required in these spaces on JCCC’s campus on College Boulevard:

  • Public indoor spaces, such as lobbies, hallways, stairways, restrooms, food/beverage areas, and any lines.
  • Classrooms and other face-to-face indoor meetings and events spaces.
  • Work areas where more than one person shares the same space, including common work areas, office suites, meeting and conference rooms, etc.
  • Private offices whenever someone else enters the office space. If an individual is alone in their office, facial coverings are not required.

The email from the executive policy group says it “has a plan in place for students and employees of JCCC should they need accommodations for face coverings and will work to determine if a reasonable accommodation is necessary.”

For students who may seek mask exemptions, a link is provided to the same on-campus office that deals with educational accommodations for students.

The email also addresses potential scenarios if individuals refuse to wear a mask.

“If a person is non-compliant with wearing a facial covering after you have politely asked for them to comply, you are empowered to ask them to leave or to remove yourself from the situation,” the email said.

Likewise, professors or staff members are asked to follow university protocols if a student refuses to wear a mask in class.

“Departments need to follow current protocols for non-compliant students and personnel. Please contact your supervisor with any questions about your department’s protocol for noncompliance,” the email said.

Vaccination rate for young people catching up

The CDC recommends that mask-wearing and limiting exposure to large groups in an enclosed space, such as a classroom, are two main ways to stop the spread of the virus, especially among young people, who generally have lower rates of vaccination from older groups.

Still, recent trends show younger people in Johnson County are starting to catch up to broader averages.

Current data provided by Johnson County Department of Health and Environment shows that 53.7% of adults 18-29 years old have been vaccinated, slightly below the overall county rate of nearly 58%.

“This will give us greater odds to stay open, educate all corners, protect our faculty and staff,” Cross said in his Facebook post.

The college says details about the updated masking policy will continue to be communicated to students faculty, who return to campus for in-person classes next week.

School officials also say they will make changes in signage across campus to reflect changes ahead of the start of class.

Additionally, the masking policy will be subject to change at the college’s discretion. The college will continue to update the campus community as policies evolve in the coming weeks and months.

More information regarding the campus policies can be found here