CLAY COUNTY – This week, the Northland Parent Association, a grassroots organization of families in Clay and Platte Counties, filed a lawsuit against local school districts and the rulers of Kansas City and North Kansas City for mask warrants. The group is challenging the constitutionality of those mandates, arguing that it should be a family’s choice to determine whether to wear masks.
What the parent group says
Members of the association vocally opposed masks in schools and masks warrants citywide in public meetings, including the Liberty, Kearney, Smithville and North Kansas City school boards.
“Schools failed to take into account that mask mandates disproportionately impact younger students, students learning English and students with special needs,” said Jay Richmond, president of Northland Parent Association. “The rates of transmission of COVID-19 among children are low, and we must stand up and protect our children from government excesses and keep parents at the center of their children’s care. “
The goal of the lawsuit and the organization is to provide a platform for parents to educate themselves on how to ensure that school boards and other leaders make informed decisions and listen to feedback from families. The group leader said members had tried to go through appropriate channels, such as periods of public comment at school, city and health board meetings, but those comments are falling on indifferent ears to leaders who may have their own program.
“We are trying to do our part to fight for parents in Northland. We want to give parents a platform to educate themselves and… hopefully not make this as polarizing as it has been, ”he told the Courier-Tribune on Tuesday August 31st.
The Northland Parent Association is represented by Kansas City attorney Kevin Corlew. Corlew is a former State House representative who resigned his seat.
The 74-page dossier he filed on behalf of the parents’ group argues that the mask warrants for students are “arbitrary and illegal and do not allow exemptions for medical and religious reasons,” a statement from the government said. group of parents. “The case does not call for a complete ban on masks, but argues that parents and students have a choice.”
“The Northland Parent Association is committed to ensuring that parents determine what is best for their children in consultation with their doctors,” Northland Parent Association vice president Natalie Scholl said in a statement, “and this extends to aspects of COVID prevention and treatment – 19 years old and wearing a mask.
Members of the Northland Parents’ Group also argue that elected leaders appear to listen to only part of the medical community. Richmond said that for every medical expert using data to advocate for masks, there were just as many medical professionals on the other side of the coin.
“If (masks necessary and effective as some believe and) you have a mask and wear it, you are safe. But, it should be everyone’s choice (wear one or not), ”he said.
Richmond added masking and other protocols like barriers around offices and social distancing took a toll on many children, including his own. Richmond has three children, two still in the NKC Schools District and one he took out of the district and placed in a private school.
One of her children, who Richmond describes as typically “extremely social” has completely changed due to school protocols in the event of a pandemic.
“My dynamic and social child has completely stopped,” he said. “I hear story after story like this from other parents.”
On Tuesday, August 31, Dallas Ackerman, director of communications at Liberty Public School, told the Courier-Tribune without a mask requirement, “We would already have a much higher number of students and staff quarantined … as we follow defined COVID-19 policies and procedures. by federal and local health authorities.
“The priority for LPS has been to provide five days a week of face-to-face learning opportunities for all students choosing this mode of learning in a safe and healthy environment. After the first week of school, it’s obvious that COVID-19 remains in our community because we’ve seen positive cases in our schools, ”Ackerman said. “We appreciate the efforts of our entire team to make these learning opportunities possible for our students.”
In a statement to local media, North Kansas City Schools said it will not comment on the disputes, but is committed to doing what is recommended to keep teachers, students, staff and staff safe. the community.
“With many other school districts in Missouri and the United States, decisions are made based on the needs of the community at any given time. Decisions at schools in North Kansas City are made in direct response to advice and recommendations from local, state, and national health experts. We will continue this practice with the goal of keeping students in person as much as possible. “
Smithville School Board President Denney Fales said he was aware of the lawsuit but would not comment specifically on it.
“The plan is to follow the legal process,” he said. “I really didn’t expect the prosecution to be at the federal level. I just found out on Monday. It will be dealt with by the lawyers.
Fales said that since the August board meeting and the start of school, there haven’t been many calls or complaints about the district’s universal mask requirement, but the opinion of the community about them also seems divided.
“I believe the board is hoping that there can be some calm and the children and teachers can be in school and do what they do best,” he said. “We have received support emails as well as negative emails. It’s fairly fairly shared.
Kansas City’s response
On Monday, August 30, Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas responded to the complaint in a released statement, saying his goal with Kansas City’s COVID-19 response is to save lives.
“No trial will change that,” he wrote. “Yet I am saddened to see yet another lawsuit brought today for baseless masquerading under Missouri law – just like lawsuits against us before, including the Missouri Attorney General’s own politically motivated coup. . The city has developed each set of COVID-19 guidelines based on clear, data-driven advice from health officials and scientists at the White House and CDC all the way to our health department. Our city council – including three of four members from Northland Kansas City – has codified this indoor mask mandate in public accommodation for this reason: Masking works to slow the spread of COVID-19.“
Kansas City’s indoor mask warrant will exist until at least September 23.
The parents’ lawsuit comes after the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Clay County public health officials recommended universal masks be worn in schools regardless of vaccination status due to the spread increase in COVID-19, possibly related to the increase in the Delta variant. Northland school districts like Kearney, Liberty, North Kansas City, and Smithville have universal mask requirements in place.
Many Kansas City doctors, including pediatricians from local hospitals who commented at Clay County public health meetings, are pushing masking policies in schools, saying hospitals in the area are seeing an increase in patient population due to COVID-19.
Local case data
Across Clay County on Tuesday, the public health center reported nine active outbreaks of COVID-19.
According to case reports in schools by the Clay County Public Health using the CDC’s blocking criteria, between August 15 and 21, Clay County had a high rate of community transmission based on the guidelines. of the CDC with 285 new cases reported per 100,000. This equates to a positivity rate of 15.52%.
Between August 22 and 28, schools in North Kansas City reported having three possible on-campus exhibits and 91 off-campus exhibits, resulting in 34 new positive cases among students in Kindergarten to Grade 5 and 60 new ones. cases in grades 6-12. During the same period, the district reports having one new positive case of on-campus exposure and six positive cases of off-campus exposure.
Updates on the Liberty Public Schools and Smithville District cases were not available at the time of publication. LPS has not updated its case dashboard since June. The Smithville dashboard page declared “unavailable” on Tuesday.
Kearney’s online dashboard reports as of August 26, 20 of 3,622 students are actively isolated for COVID positivity and 26 others are quarantined for close contact. Currently, there are also three isolated Kearney staff and one quarantined out of the total 515 staff in the district. The greatest number of isolates in a school population, 10, comes from Kearney High School.
Based on data from the County Health Recovery Dashboard, accessible through the County Health Department website clayhealth.com, 43% of county residents aged 12 and over are fully immunized, which local health experts attributed to the slowdown in the global spread and death rate of COVID. -19 since the start of the pandemic.
“The cases are starting to stabilize at around 350 cases per week. The rapid growth in cases seen in July was not seen last month, ”the county’s recovery dashboard says.