A Facebook group advocating for students to have the choice to wear masks in Johnson County schools is planning a number of events over the next week, even as it faces growing scrutiny over its connections to the former CEO of a nurse staffing agency in Overland Park.
Mask Choice 4 Kids first popped up in August, led by Jacob Cleary, the 19-year-old son of Brian Cleary, who until last week was the head of Krucial Staffing.
Krucial, founded in 2019, has deployed thousands of nurses to hard-hit areas of the U.S. during the COVID-19 pandemic over the past year-and-a-half.
On Friday, the company announced Brian Cleary’s resignation in a brief statement, days after a Kansas City Star editorial linked Mask Choice 4 Kids to Cleary and his son.
Krucial did not specify why Cleary left but said this in its statement:
“Obviously being in the healthcare staffing business, we understand the importance of masks in hospitals and any medical setting. As a company we work to ensure that all our healthcare personnel have the best protective equipment to keep them safe in their environment.”
Mask Choice 4 Kids’ origins
Mask Choice 4 Kids says on its Facebook page that its mission is to “give children and parents the CHOICE to wear masks in school.”
The group was organized as a limited liability corporation with the Kansas Secretary of State’s office on Aug. 11. Jacob Cleary’s name appears on the filing as the organizer, and the group’s mailing address is listed in Wichita.
It remains unclear what, if any, role Brian Cleary has had with the group, though he recently posted in another private Facebook group, Blue Valley Parents for In-person Learning and Parent Choice, the following message:
“My 19 year old son had the idea for mask choice 4 kids, then a bunch of parents have run with it. Follow us on social media, we are going to be having a rally outside at the next board meeting. Monday September 13th from 5-630 pm. Got to have big numbers, we are shooting for 500-1000. Bring kids neighbors, everyone! Strength in numbers.”
Cleary and Krucial Staffing were sued last year in New York by three nurses who alleged that the company sent them to New York without adequate training or personal protective equipment. Four other nurses later joined the lawsuit, which is pending.
The Shawnee Mission Post reached out to both Jacob and Brian Cleary for comment for this story, and neither responded.
Krucial Staffing declined further comment beyond the statement it sent Friday.
Group leadership change
Meanwhile, last week, Jacob Cleary, who is in college in Colorado according to KCUR, announced on Mask Choice 4 Kids’ Facebook page that he would be stepping aside as the group’s leader.
In a video announcement posted on Tuesday, Sept. 7, he said he was “handing over the … movement” to Tana Goertz, a former contestant on the TV show “The Apprentice.
Goertz describes herself on her own Facebook page as a “business consultant,” inspirational speaker” and “President Trump hype girl.”
“I’m also so proud of the message and that it’ll hopefully give (sic) parents and kids a choice,” Jacob Cleary said in his announcement. “Due to the growth, it has become necessary to turn the operation over to Tana Goertz. She is amazing and I thank her for volunteering.”
Goertz told the Shawnee Mission Post via email that she is donating her time to Mask Choice 4 Kids and is now the group’s “spokesperson.”
Goertz isn’t from Johnson County, and her only other recent connection to it appears to be an Aug. 28 Northeast Johnson County Republican Women’s Club annual membership luncheon at which she was the keynote speaker.
Goertz told the Post her brand — HeyTana— is “about positivity, youth mentorship, empowerment” and more, and that she’s spoken to hundreds of youth groups over the years.
“My brand is all about being unique, being unstoppable and being unforgettable,” Goertz said. “I believe strong confident parents produce strong confident children.”
Goertz did not respond to the Post’s specific questions regarding her exact role with Mask Choice 4 Kids. Instead, she pointed to a Facebook Live video she posted on Sept. 9 in which she explained how she had come on board.
When asked about where Mask Choice 4 Kids’ got the funding for several thousand T-shirts and signs, Goertz said “many parents made donations to fund the initial expenses.”
Goertz said Mask Choice 4 Kids’ goal is to have a chapter in all 50 states.
Until then, she said the group is encouraging those who share their “same passion and belief system” to use Mask Choice 4 Kids “as a sounding board and positive resource for their children who feel anxious, depressed and scared.”
Some parents concerned
Mask Choice 4 Kids’s Facebook page currently has more than 5,000 followers, which concerns Blue Valley parents like Annie Wishna.
Wishna, who has a second and fifth grader in the district, said she recently noticed Mask Choice 4 Kids signs up and down Roe Avenue from 119th Street to 18th Street Expressway.
Mask Choice 4 Kids signs appeared in several northeast Johnson County cities earlier this month, but most were quickly taken down. Officials in Overland Park, Prairie Village and Roeland Park said the signs violated the cities’ codes for signage on public property.
For her part, Wishna said she thinks masks are “critical to keeping kids in schools,” and that concerns about Mask Choice 4 Kids are growing among other Blue Valley parents.
Still, she said she hopes the community will come together to fight COVID-19 instead of prolonging it, which is what she said will happen if Mask Choice 4 Kids gets its way and masks in schools become optional.
“My hope would be that people would do the right thing and make the right decision and do what’s needed to end this pandemic,” Wishna said. “We’re all in this together. What’s best for all Blue Valley students is for people to wear masks as long as necessary, and get vaccinated.”
Charlie Hunt, Johnson County Department of Health and Environment deputy director, said children accounted for more than 26% — or more than 250,000 — of all reported COVID-19 cases nationwide the week of Sept. 2.
Additionally, he said there are high numbers of COVID-19 cases being reported in Johnson County schools with hundreds of students across the county being quarantined in the school year’s opening weeks.
Hunt said the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics both “consistently recommend the use of masks” to effectively reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
“Masks are an effective way to prevent the spread of the virus, so individuals don’t get sick, don’t have to stay home and don’t have to utilize hospital (or) medical resources,” Hunt said.
A blitz of events
Mask Choice 4 Kids says its goal is to “peacefully and positively advocate for a choice on masks for kids by.”
The group encourages middle and high school students to defy school rules and remove their masks after the first period every Tuesday.
The group also calls for its supporters to wear “Mask Choice 4 Kids” T-shirts every Wednesday.
In addition, several upcoming events and demonstrations are listed on the Mask Choice 4 Kids calendar on its Facebook page:
- A rally at the Blue Valley school board meeting on Monday, Sept. 13. The group says it hopes to get 1,000 people outside the meeting, along with folks participating in public comments.
- Attending the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Thursday, Sept. 16, where some group members plan to speak during public comments.
- A “sick out” day on Monday, Sept. 20 at Heritage Park from 10:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.
Kaci Brutto, Blue Valley Schools director of communications, said the district is aware of the group.
“The two driving forces influencing our decisions this school year amid a continuing pandemic continue to be the safety of our students and keeping our students in school — in-person — as it is critical to their long-term success and well-being,” Brutto said.
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