Several schools ditch mandatory masks

By Mike Genet
The Examiner

After Jackson County's announcement Friday that it was lifting mask requirements, several area school districts responded over the weekend by lifting mask requirements for the remainder of the school year. 

The Blue Springs, Fort Osage, Grain Valley, Lee’s Summit school districts all dropped mask requirements for the last couple weeks of the school year, regardless of vaccination status, citing in messages sent to district families that the county had dropped its requirement. The Independence School District will maintain masks for the last two weeks of school. 

Amid those announcements, the CDC clarified Saturday that it recommends schools should continue COVID-19 guidelines, including masks and social distancing, for the remainder of the school year, as most students are not fully vaccinated. The CDC had said Thursday that fully vaccinated people could dispense wearing masks indoors and outdoors, unless otherwise required by a local jurisdiction.  

Jackson County, the city of Independence and other public health agencies had lifted masking and social distancing requirements Friday, though they added that masks are still strongly recommended for those not vaccinated. Health agencies have also said that individual business, spaces, offices, schools, etc., are free to continue mask and social distance policies as they see fit. 

An example is Independence Schools, which will keep masks for students and staff in place for the remainder of school year. It has not announced any changes for summer school in June. In a message to families, the district said it remained guided by CDC and Children’s Mercy Hospital recommendations. 

“Masking has proven to be an effective way to decrease the spread of COVID-19, and it decreases the number of children placed in quarantine,” the message said. “We still have active cases of COVID in the ISD, and we do not want to experience a situation in which numerous students would need to quarantine and miss out on end of the year events and activities, such as graduation.” 

Only last week did one vaccine (Pfizer) get approved and become available for children ages 12-15, and that vaccine has been approved for 16- and 17-year-olds for less than a month. 

Many schools started to hold their graduation ceremonies this past week or will do so in the coming weeks. 

While lifting mask requirements, schools have tried to echo the recommendation that unvaccinated people should still wear masks. Lee’s Summit Schools said masks will still be required on school buses. Nationwide they remain required for all for public transportation and commercial flights. 

Schools have also said that unvaccinated people who are identified as an exposure contact still must quarantine for 14 days, and those fully vaccinated who are exposed do not need to quarantine as long as they don’t develop symptoms.