USD 497 wont require masks for vaccinated students and staff next year

The district announced the mask decision alongside the rest of their protocols for the 2021-22 school year

By Cuyler Dunn, Co-Editor in Chief of The Budget

After almost 17 months, many Lawrence High School students and staff will return to school without masks this fall.

Fully vaccinated people will no longer need to wear a mask when in the building. While the district will not be checking for proof of vaccination they hope that the community will work together to keep students and staff safe.

The decision came alongside a host of other protocols for returning students to school safely for the 2021-22 school year. 

“Students benefit from in-person learning, and safely returning to in-person instruction in the fall is a priority for the districts,” USD 497 said in a press release on July 17. “These mitigation strategies will assist us in maintaining safe learning environments for all students and staff.”

Students had mixed responses to the decision.

“I am fine with the decision to allow no masks, but I think it’s irresponsible to not require proof of vaccination,” junior Timo Webb said. “Especially because it is such an easy thing, and the district only has to get that proof one time for it to be documented.”

In July, CDC said vaccinated people could go without wearing masks in schools. More recently, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal masking in schools citing the difficulty knowing the vaccine status of students and staff and the concern around easily spread variants.

Without checks on vaccination status, some students worried that unvaccinated people may choose not to wear masks, increasing the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

“I feel that the new change is going to make many members of the student body feel unsafe with coming to school,” sophomore Emily Brandt said. “I know a lot of families who have kids or people in their lives with health conditions that could make COVID-19 deadly.”

The district didn’t make this decision on its own. It worked with local health officials to develop its plan for the fall.

“We have worked closely with school districts to provide them guidance throughout the pandemic, including suggestions on how to operate this fall,” said George Diepenbrock, communications officer for Lawrence-Douglas County Public Health.

The district urged students and staff to get vaccinated as soon as possible so they can be the most protected by the time school starts, especially considering the rise in the Delta variant, which spreads far easier and had increased COVID-19 cases across the country with nearly all deaths occurring among the unvaccinated. Vaccines are available for ages 12 and up. Douglas County vaccination rates far exceed those of the state overall, but still stand at about 62 percent of the eligible population

“We encourage them to get vaccinated now so they have a chance to be fully vaccinated before the school year starts,” Diepenbrock said. “Obviously, the Delta variant is a concern right now given what has occurred in other communities and the region. We have seen our cases increase in the past couple of weeks after months of declines, and a majority of those new cases are among unvaccinated. So we encourage anyone eligible, who has not yet, to make a vaccine appointment.”

Kenna McNally and Tessa Collar contributed to this report.