By Dennis Minich
Harrisonville R-9 students will not be required to wear masks when school starts next week. The district school board met Aug. 11 and voted to adopt a policy where in most cases, the decision about whether to wear masks would be up to the parents. The policy officially states, “masks are recommended, but not required.”
The primary exceptions to the rule will be on school buses, where federal law requires masks, and if a staff member specifically requests others to wear a mask. Superintendent Paul Mensching explained this is necessary for teachers or staff who may have a comorbidity and need the extra protection.
The policy seemed to come as a surprise to a room full of people who appeared ready to complain about possible mask mandates. Armed with signs about “liberty” “no vaccinations” and “choice,” the group grumbled as Dr. Kevin Latinis, a rheumatologist at Cass Regional Medical Center and a member of the Cass County COVID Taskforce spoke about the advantages of masking.
“The county’s hospitals are full, full of COVID patients,” Latinis said. “At our hospital we have three in the ICU including one on a ventilator. Our hospital is not designed to handle 24-hour vent patients. Normally we would transfer them out, but we can’t because other hospitals are also basically maxed out.”
He added 95 percent of those in the hospital are unvaccinated and many younger than in the past, but noted those numbers are skewed because a high percentage of older citizens have been vaccinated.
About masks, Latinis said, “They are a good tool, but not perfect.”
He also noted the concern is not so much with students getting infected, but where they can carry the germs. “They are younger and for the most part they have good immune systems. But kids transfer germs. We all know that and they can
take it home to their parents and their grandparents and they can get sick,” he said.
Besides masks, Latinis noted the schools did a good job last year of cleaning and disinfecting facilities. Following his remarks, members of the audience asked to speak, but were told there was no public participation. Then Mensching outlined the policy.
Board member Nancy Shelton asked if the policy would be reviewed monthly and Mensching said it would probably be more often than that. He said the district will monitor numbers and could come back with plans to change policy at some or all schools depending on the numbers.
“If we hit a threshold, we’ll have to respond to that,” Mensching said. Board member Doug Meyer expressed concerns that bullying could be a side effect of some students masking and others not.
“I think this is a case of parents needing to sit with their kids and explain why they are deciding what they are. Our teachers don’t need to be mask police,” he said. The policy passed with board members Shelton, Meyer, Doug Alexander, Tina Graef and Cameron Chenoweth voting to approve the plan. Board member Brittney Sexton, who works at Cass Regional voted no.
Member Bing Schimmelpfenning was absent.
In other business, the board approved the student resource officer contract with the city and approved a scoreboard advertising agreement with Kevin Ginnings Plumbing.