Our District Leaders Don’t Have Our Best Interests At Heart


Photo by Emmett Abar

“As I reflect on the first semester of the 2021-22 school year, I find myself circling back to one thought— what a great first semester.” So wrote BVUSD Superintendent Tonya Merrigan in the Winter 2021 issue of Blue Valley Today. 

I do not doubt that she is telling the truth, but I can only bring myself to the same conclusion by ignoring the Blue Valley Board of Education’s (BOE) poor leadership. On Nov. 8, the BOE voted 6-1 to make masks optional for high school students starting on Nov. 29, when students returned from Thanksgiving break. Regardless of one’s personal views on this issue, it is clear the BOE made this decision not with complete candor and consideration of relevant facts, but instead with political maneuvering and personal bias. By ignoring inconvenient facts, arguing insincerely and neglecting expert opinion, the BOE set a concerning precedent for future decisions.

On Nov. 8, advocates in support of the then-current rules turned out in earnest to ask that the mask mandate remain just a few more weeks. To this end, individual board members proposed end dates ranging from December to early January. The majority of the BOE ultimately dismissed these dates, calling them arbitrary, despite the fact that the dates gave five weeks for children to receive the two shots, allowing for variable amounts of flexibility for families to begin the process. Without explanation, the BOE opted for the undeniably arbitrary Nov. 29.

 Additionally, the BOE members’ convictions seem to fit whatever is momentarily convenient for themselves. In August, board member Mike Seitz initially argued against implementing the rule.

“For those of you suggesting comparisons to other districts, stop! We’re not other districts. We’re Blue Valley, and we will continue to be Blue Valley,” Seitz told his colleagues.

However, on Nov. 8, Seitz had no problem voting with another board member, Tom Mitchell, who suggested that Blue Valley “ follow Olathe’s lead… and [lift the rule].”

In August, the BOE invited the Johnson County Department of Health and Environment’s Director of Epidemiology, Elizabeth Holzschuh, to speak. On Nov. 8, however, no health experts were present for consultation. It is only logical to consult a respected agency when considering actions relevant to its expertise, especially when Seitz failed to recall previous expert testimony. Had the BOE already decided to follow the health department’s suggestion, forgoing a substantial dialogue could have been excusable. However, the BOE decided to overturn a measure for which the health department advocated. Whether the result of arrogance, ignorance or indifference, this decision and the way it was made is indicative of poor leadership!

The offense becomes even more egregious when considering that Superintendent Merrigan, when asked what she believed the experts would say about removing the mask rule, answered, “they would say no.” By making this statement, she demonstrated that, at the Nov. 8 meeting, expertise was not unnecessary; it was unwelcome!

Why the BOE chose Nov. 29 is unclear. Perhaps it has to do with the high school basketball season’s beginning four days after the requirement was lifted; a startling correlation that allows me to hope our BOE did not trade its integrity and students’ safety for spectators’ convenience. Some members also cited a desire for compromise as their reason for voting to overturn the rule, but it is important to note that effecting compromise is not the same as compromising the effect of a solution.

One might wonder why I find this decision frustrating or dangerous. Allow me to pose a hypothetical: what are we to do if a variant arises that is more transmissible than the Delta variant? What about one that evades both vaccine immunity and natural immunity? What about one that is even deadlier than the Delta variant? What about one that targets young people more readily? What about one that is even more mysterious than the original virus? If our board members refuse to consider facts, and fail to suspend their personal biases, then what are we to do about a new variant with some or all of these characteristics?

The emergence of the Omicron Variant makes clear that this virus continues to mutate. Case numbers in Blue Valley high schools are clearly increasing since the masking requirement ended. The BOE established a 3% limit on virus-related absences in each high school building before reinstating a two-week mask mandate, but should the BOE be able to hide behind the suggestion that 51 is an acceptable number of sick students and staff at our school?

The BOE has an opportunity for redemption. While I indict the BOE’s leadership today, I hope they prove me wrong tomorrow. Please, make your voice heard so that the BOE knows that the hereunto restrained majority is on the side of vigilance and expertise. 

Dr. Merrigan writes later, “Strong communities rally in difficult times.” May our community prove to be strong.


This story does not necessarily reflect the views of the North Star.