Decision Made After Mask Mandate Hearing


The Blue Valley Board of Education on April 8 to discuss whether they uphold or change its mask policy. Screenshot provided by Arshiya Pant

At an open meeting on April 8, the Blue Valley Board of Education has decided to uphold its mask requirement policy. 

On April 6, after an individual refused to wear a mask at the in-person hearing regarding the mandate, it was rescheduled into a virtual format to be held on the morning of April 7. The meeting fell under Kansas Senate Bill 40, a bill that provides employees, students, and parents or guardians with the opportunity to request a hearing if dissatisfied with the current management and regulations surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. While the SB 40 hearing was initially not intended to be live-streamed, after the rescheduling, hundreds of attendees were able to watch it live via Zoom. 

Parents opposed to the mask mandate, which is currently enforced by the Blue Valley district voiced their opinions, explained why they felt it should be lifted. One of these parents was Julie Myrick, who argued that masks cause discomfort for the students in her statement. 

“My oldest son has reported difficulty breathing, increased dizziness and severe headaches with prolonged mask use,” Myrick said. “His pulmonary function has decreased in the last six months, which can have [a] significant impact on a child with asthma.”

Myrick also said she felt that masks complicate communication between students and teachers. 

“Our children need to see the faces of their peers and teachers to build relationships,” Myrick said. “Additionally, masks create a communication barrier as it is difficult to understand someone who is wearing a mask. This communication barrier impacts learning.” 

District Coordinating Nurse Tara Asher made several recommendations to the BV board, in regards to the COVID-19 mitigation measures. Asher included masks in her suggestions, saying that they were a necessary preventive measure and that without them the chances of transitioning back to online school would be significantly increased.

“If individuals are not masked, that would lead to a greater number of quarantines,” Asher said. “It could lead to classroom shutdowns, closures of activities, and school shutdowns.”

Local Pediatrician Dr. Andrew Demo further emphasized the importance of masks by explaining that COVID- 19 is airborne.

“It can be spread through contact with contaminated surfaces and that’s how we initially thought it was spread the most,” Demo said. “Then as we learned more about this virus, we know that at large, the main way it is spread is from an infected individual excreting respiratory droplets to a close contact or direct contact. As I tell [families], it’s all about the air you share.”

Linus Baker, whose grandson was previously enrolled in the BV district, according to the Superintendent of Special Education, raised the question of single student exceptions to the mask mandate. Baker has previously attempted to sue the district for vaccination requirements.

“It’s just a policy, you can [allow an exception],” Baker said. “Why won’t you do it? Would the mask policy fail if you let one more student attend without a mask? No.”

Assistant Superintendent Mark Schmidt refuted this idea and said there cannot be any exceptions to this rule aside from those who are medically exempt from masks. 

 “In general, the policy would fail if we did not uphold the mask policy,” Schmidt said. “We’re not talking about one student here, we’re talking about multiple students. My understanding is that this hearing is about the school board policy and not… based on an individual student.”

The day after the hearing, findings and recommendations were presented at an open meeting where the Board of Education determined the outcome. After a summary of the hearing, from hearing officer Roger Warren and about half an hour of deliberation, Board Member Stacy Obringer-Varhall proposed the following dual motion:

“I move that the board of education find that the hearing requests are dismissed on the basis that the complainants either lack standing or the requests were not timely submitted under senate bill 40 and that the board of education maintain the mask requirement as set out in the Navigating Change policy adopted on August 18, 2020, on the basis that it is narrowly tailored to respond to the state of disaster emergency and uses the least restrictive means to do so.”

The BOE then proceeded to conduct a vote on the motion. The vote was unanimous at seven to zero, which decided to both dismiss the healing requests and maintain the mask requirement.