At special meeting, board adopts hearing officer recommendation on mask mandate

The board unanimously approved the recommendation not to modify the mandate, at a meeting held in accordance with SB 40


By Ben Wieland

The school board meets for a virtual special board meeting regarding a SB 40 hearing Monday, April 26.

Ben Wieland, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

The board heard testimony from hearing officers Carrie Handy and Brian Schwanz on a SB 40 hearing regarding the district-wide mask mandate, and unanimously voted to accept their ruling that the mask mandate should not be altered. 

The hearing was requested on Tuesday, April 20 by district parent Emily Carpenter, who has addressed the board at multiple meetings to request that mask wearing be made optional. 

“It is our recommendation that Mrs. Carpenter’s complaints be dismissed,” Schwanz said. “She lacks standing to challenge mask policy, because her complaint was not filed within 30 days of the action.”

Handy, offering further information on the board’s ruling, explained the decision to “time-bar” the challenge to the mask mandate — in other words, deny the complaint because the action taken by the board (in this case, issuing the mandate as part of the Coming Back Together plan in July 2020) did not fall within the 30 days required by SB 40. 

“Carpenter claims that the mask mandate is enacted every day her students are required to wear a mask to school. [Assistant superintendent Alvie] Cater provided information during the hearing that the board adopted the policy on july 13 2020,” Handy said. “SB 40 gives parents the right to contest an action of the board pertaining to COVID-19 within 30 days of the action. Based on information presented, we do not believe that the continued application of the stated policy is an action of the board.” 

We believe the mask requirement is narrowly tailored to reduce spread of COVID-19 in schools and is the least restrictive means to achieve the goal.”

— hearing officer Carrie Handy

The hearing officers also addressed SB 40’s requirement that school boards adopt COVID-19 restrictions that use the “least restrictive means” to limit the spread of the virus. 

During the hearing, Carpenter cited a Stanford study to argue that masks should be optional. In response, Cater presented evidence from the Center for Disease Control, Kansas Department of Health and the Environment, and a signed affidavit from the Johnson County Department of Health that mask wearing is the least restrictive means to reduce COVIID-19 spread. 

In their conclusions from the hearing, the two officers who presented to the board agreed with Cater’s interpretation. 

“We believe the mask requirement is narrowly tailored to reduce spread of COVID-19 in schools and is the least restrictive means to achieve the goal,” Handy said.

Handy and Schwanz did recommend one change to district policy: in future communications sent out by the district, mask mandates should be referenced as a board policy — not a county or state requirement — because SB 40 grants school boards “sole authority” over COVID-19 restrictions. 

However, they ultimately held that Carpenter’s request should be “time-barred” and she did not have standing to challenge the mask mandate. No further changes to district policy were recommended. 

The board’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Monday, May 3.

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