In a special meeting Friday afternoon, the Blue Valley school board voted to rescind the district’s current COVID-19 masking policy.
Why it matters: In February, the board created a policy that made masking optional in all Blue Valley schools until a building exceeded more than 10% absenteeism due to illness.
Everyone within a building that had reached the threshold was then required to wear masks for at least two weeks.
By rescinding that policy Friday, there are now no districtwide rules in place that require students to wear masks under any circumstances.
The background: The special meeting came after one school, Wolf Springs Elementary, exceeded the 10% illness threshold on Tuesday.
But the issue, superintendent Tonya Merrigan said, was that only four of the absences at the school were caused by COVID-19. A majority of the illnesses were due to a gastrointestinal ailment.
Despite the bulk of the school’s absences being non-COVID related, the district’s requirement that masking be returned for at least two weeks at the school still went into effect this week.
Something similar happened at six elementary schools in Shawnee Mission, which all returned to universal masking this week, after absence rates driven in part by non-COVID illnesses increased.
Board’s concerns: According to BV Northwest board member Patrick Hurley, the situation at Wolf Springs got the board debating whether the masking policy was still effective and appropriate.
“We’re trying to monitor COVID, not the flu,” BV South area board member Jodie Dietz said at the meeting.
Dietz, along with many others on the board, pointed out that the masking policy was never meant to go into effect because of illnesses other than COVID-19.
The main reason the board based the February masking policy on total illness absenteeism was due to the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment stopping its COVID-19 contact tracing efforts in January.
The vote: BV Northeast board member Amy Tysseling was the first to recommend the board rescind its current mask policy and leave it up to school-level and district administrators to decide if and when masks should be brought back on a campus during a spike in illnesses.
By allowing other administrative officials to take charge, the board will no longer be required to meet when a school reaches that 10% threshold.
Agreeing with Tysseling, BV at large board member Tom Mitchell said he found no reason why the board should have to meet every time a single school hits high illness numbers.
However, BV Northwest area board member Gina Knapp disagreed saying she believed it should still be the board’s responsibility.
Ultimately, the meeting ended with a motion that passed in a 5-2 vote to rescind the board’s current masking policy.
Board members Kaety Bowers, Jim McMullen, Mitchell, Tysseling and Dietz voted in favor of the motion, while Hurley and Knapp voted against it.
Looking to the future: Although Blue Valley has rescinded its masking policy, the board said it may not last forever.
“We just want to make sure we do the best we can to keep these kids in seats throughout the end of the school year,” Dietz said. “We’re optimistic, but we want our community to be ready that if we have to change [the masking policy] fast in order to keep these kids in seats, that is what we’ll do.”
Currently, the board’s plan is to try to get through the end of the school without a districtwide mask policy in place before potentially revisiting the subject at the beginning of next school year.
Despite no masking policy, other COVID-19 mitigation practices will remain, including thorough cleaning, air filtration and tracking the number of illnesses by building.
Merrigan said the district will continue to work with JCDHE and notify them if a school exceeds a 10% absenteeism rate due to illness.