After Jackson County took measures to end it’s mask mandate 10 days early on November 12, the Lee’s Summit School Board made a similar decision on November 18. The School Board meeting ended in a vote 5-2 regarding the motion to continue a universal mask mandate for buildings with PreK-6th grade, and moved to optional masking for buildings with 7th-12th grade.
The county ended their mandate early citing lower positive COVID-19 case rates according to a Jackson County Media Release, however, “based on the CDC’s designation and recommendations, the Jackson County community is encouraged to show compassion and care for those around them by continuing to wear a mask in public indoor settings until we reach a “moderate” level of community transmission.”
The county legislature vote resulted in 5-4 for ending the mandate, which also made the mandate optional for schools, meaning the schools had the opportunity to decide what to enforce at their buildings, as long as they are equally or more restricting. With the option for children ages 5-11 to get vaccinated, it opens up the possibility for herd immunity throughout the district K-12.
Junior Dakota Dey said she thinks that since people have had the opportunity to receive vaccinations, masks should be optional. “If you feel safer when wearing a mask, that’s completely fine, or, if you feel comfortable not wearing one, that’s great too,” Dey said.
Dey brought up the point that even though students aren’t required to wear masks, they still have the option to. At the school board meeting the mask mandate was removed, allowing students to return to school maskless, however, federal mandates still require masks to be worn on busses.
Dey said she was worried that masks were becoming a hindrance to some student’s learning. “I believe masks impact our youth each and every day. It is a hassle and a possible distraction to younger students, especially throughout the school day. I would also add that it takes away normalcy, which can be very difficult in particular settings,” Dey said.
Senior Emma Wang thinks that masks are important, but have changed the learning environment. “I don’t really think it affects learning or community events dramatically, but it’s naive to think that masks haven’t affected them at all. I really like class discussions, and one strange thing I noticed is that before the mandate I would look around at other students’ mouths to see if they wanted or were going to say something. With the masks, I, and I’m sure many others, are afraid of interrupting others so we just don’t talk as much. Lots of subtle clues you can pick up on are eliminated with masks,” Wang said.
Even though Wang said she believes masks have impacted classrooms, she also believes that masks aren’t “that big of a deal”. “I guess the main thing I want people to think about is how you don’t really sacrifice anything by wearing a mask… Most of the time I don’t even register that I am wearing a mask. Part of me doesn’t really understand why you would wear a mask just under your nose. It’s already on your face, you might as well just wear it two inches higher,” Wang said.
Dey has seen how masks have impacted different communities around Lee’s Summit West, as she’s on the cheer squad as well as in the concert choir. “I am involved in multiple different activities and each one has a different mask requirement. For example, in cheerleading, due to MSSHA protocol, we are not allowed to wear masks during stunting, tumbling, or jumping because of safety concerns,” Dey said. “However, this is very different in comparison to choir. There are 70 students gathered in a small area producing sound through their masks. That being said, masks [did] get in our way from creating a good sound occasionally.”
Dey said she hopes that as cases decline, a sense of “normalcy” can find its way back. “I hope our normalcy slowly continues to return. I think we are taking steps in the right direction by all students coming back to school and adding FNL. Hopefully, Titan Time and other school activities will also return normalcy for future LSW students,” Dey said.
Even though the LSR7 mask mandate was removed, mask wearing was made optional, meaning it’s possible that some students and staff may choose to continue wearing masks whilst sick—even when sick without COVID-19. Wang said she thinks “that it is possible that people continue to wear masks in the winter. Last year, cold and flu deaths were extremely low because less people got sick. However, I also think that through peer pressure it is possible that no one will wear masks once COVID is under control.”
Wang said she doesn’t see the downside to mask mandates to control the spread of COVID-19. “I know that it is hotly politicized, but I think that if my wearing of a mask prevents someone from getting sick or even dying, I’m going to wear the mask. I’m not sure I have an exact date when the mask mandate should expire but I do think it should have stayed until flu and cold season ended. I’m not sure how someone is going to know if they are sick with the flu, COVID, or a cold because, as we’ve seen, you can still get sick when vaccinated.”
Dey said that she thinks that the decision to keep or remove a mask mandate should be decided based on what case numbers studies are showing at the time. “I do not think masks should be mandated all year so to speak. I think when cases are at the highest, that’s when we should take a closer look into mandating masks, but, it shouldn’t go off [of] seasons or time of year,” Dey said. “I think the decision will be based on local case numbers. I think a lot of people are over masks, but, it will ultimately rely on if cases continue to decline.”
When the Jackson County Legislature announced its decision to remove the mask mandate, it came with much deliberation. The board votes weighed 5-4 and with some opposition by the Jackson County Executive Frank White, Jr.. White Jr. said, “Unfortunately, a majority of the legislature voted to rescind the county’s masking requirement for everyone, including our school children. I would encourage all residents of Jackson County to do everything they can to protect themselves and each other,” in the Jackson County Media Release.
According to the media release, “businesses and other spaces continue to have the right to set their own mask requirements for entry. The Jackson County Government and the Jackson County Health Department fully support the efforts of employers and organizations to protect their workers and customers when vaccination status cannot be determined. Masks will still be required in county buildings and facilities for staff and visitors until further notice.”