New Kansas law allows parents to dispute school mask mandates

Lawrence and USD 497 have continued to uphold and enforce their mask mandates on all school property.

Cuyler Dunn

Lawrence and USD 497 have continued to uphold and enforce their mask mandates on all school property.

By Cuyler Dunn, Assistant Online Editor

Lawrence and USD 497 continue to stick by existing mask requirements even as the state has made it easier to challenge those mandates.

Kansas Senate Bill 40 passed through the Kansas Legislature and was signed into law by Gov. Laura Kelly in late March. It allows parents in Kansas to request a public hearing to oppose mask and social distancing mandates in high schools. Parents can then choose whether to pursue further action through a civil lawsuit.

Olathe and Blue Valley school districts faced challenges to existing mask rules with both public hearings ending with the school board upholding the current mandates.

Lawrence Public Schools had their first hearing on April 12 when a Free State parent requested a hearing after being denied entry to a track meet because they were not wearing a mask. The board upheld its mask mandate unanimously. 

In a press release, USD497 continued its support for mask mandates on all school property.

“The district follows the Douglas County Health Order requiring masks, including in outdoor environments where 6 ft. distancing cannot be met,” they said. “The district also follows Kansas State High School Athletics Association guidelines.”

Junior Jake Shew expressed his frustrations with the new law, saying that masks are crucial to keeping COVID-19 spread low as vaccine rollout continues.

“Masks are a large part of the reason we’re even close to a light at the end of the tunnel on this pandemic,” Shew said, “and I think that allowing parents to contest mask mandates opens up a whole host of problems and will only set us back further.”

Along with the health worries, the ability to challenge mask mandates also presents financial concerns as public hearings and lawsuits could use up valuable time and resources.

“A public hearing means that our courts will only get more inefficient as cases flood in,” Shew said. “Meaning that the actual civil litigation that needs to be deliberated on will get put on the back burner for parents complaining about a piece of cloth.”

Other students agreed that the bill could cause some wasted time and money for the district and lead to confusion about where mask mandates stand.

“This new law in my opinion would lead to more wasted time and money because it would create a chaos of ‘do I wear my mask or not?’ for every event at LHS,” junior Ashton Rapp said. “It would cause confusion, misinformation and ultimately health risks especially since the pandemic is not over.”