Johnson County district makes masks optional for older students as COVID cases fall

·2 min read

The De Soto school board on Monday unanimously agreed to make COVID-19 masks optional for high school students, effective Wednesday.

The school district, like most others in Johnson County, has had a universal mask mandate since the school year began. But board members decided it was time to remove the mandate for high schoolers as COVID-19 cases decline.

Masks will remain optional for high schoolers as long as the percentage of students needing to quarantine or isolate after being exposed to the virus remains below 4%. Otherwise, the mandate will be reinstated. Masks would then become optional again if that number drops below 2% for two consecutive weeks.

Johnson County’s health order requires schools that serve students as old as sixth grade to mandate masks. All public districts, except for Spring Hill, went beyond that order and implemented universal mask mandates.

With masks optional for high schoolers, De Soto, in the northwest corner of the county, will continue to follow the county order and require face coverings in elementary and middle schools.

And due to federal regulations, high school students and staff must still wear masks on school buses.

“The Board made the decision to make masks optional at the high school level in light of declining community spread of COVID-19, declining spread among students, and the high rate of vaccinations among high school-aged students and adults,” district officials said in a statement.

The number of new COVID-19 cases has been steadily declining in Johnson County, after sharp peaks this summer. On Monday, the county reported an incidence rate — or the number of new cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days — of 91 per 100,000. That’s down from a rate of 191 per 100,000 on Sept. 16.

The county has recently been downgraded from a “high” transmission area, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance, to a “substantial” transmission area. At that level, the CDC continues to recommend everyone wear masks indoors in public.

According to the district’s dashboard, 13 students were required to isolate after contracting the virus last week, and 17 students had to quarantine after being exposed to it.

De Soto also is moving toward a “test to stay and learn” policy, where the district will provide free, daily voluntary COVID-19 testing for all students and staff who are identified as close contacts of an exposure by the county health department. Students and staff will be allowed to remain in school, rather than quarantining, as long as they continue to test negative.

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