Kansas health officials warned of a “dangerous moment” as one school district reimposed the masks and another relaxed them in a meeting so controversial the public was withdrawn.
In the Manhattan-Ogden district, the school board voted on Monday to reinstate a district-wide mask mandate, amending a policy in place since November 1 that made masks optional for high school students. The council will reconsider the decision early next month.
Meanwhile, the Shawnee Mission School District Board of Directors, which has 27,000 students, narrowly voted to allow an optional mask policy to take effect for middle and high school students when classes resume Wednesday. The crowd interrupted so often that the chairman of the board ended the meeting twice before chasing the audience.
Superintendent Michelle Hubbard described the contentious nature of the meeting in a briefing Tuesday as “disappointing to say the least” and noted that the board was under tremendous pressure.
Hubbard said the district started the school year short of 250 staff and was struggling to find enough bus drivers, catering workers and substitute teachers. The situation is expected to worsen as the omicron takes hold, she said.
“Everyone will be on deck for the next month,” she said. “There are times when people from the district office need to go to schools, roll up their sleeves and support our teachers so they can support children in the classroom.”
She noted that district policy allows the district to require masks if the number of cases and quarantines at a school exceed 3%.
The council vote came after more than 200 local health professionals sent a letter asking Johnson County commissioners and school districts to keep a mask warrant in place. Commissioners for Johnson County, the state’s most populous, are set to decide Thursday whether they will cancel their mandate for elementary school children.
The letter noted that the United States had “broken” records and said, “Now is not the time to let our guard down.”
The University of Kansas Health System in Kansas City, Kansas, is treating 120 COVID-19 patients, up from 40 on December 1. Fifteen patients – all unvaccinated – are on ventilators.
“It’s a dangerous time for us,” Dr Steve Stites, the hospital’s chief medical officer, said in a briefing Tuesday.
“There are a lot of children who are not vaccinated. There are a lot of teachers who may not be vaccinated. And the problem is going to be, if you have too many kids out of the classroom, if you have too many teachers who can’t teach, and not enough administrators, you can’t run the program. You will struggle. “