The Johnson County School District No. 1 board of trustees voted Wednesday night to approve the exception to current state health orders received Monday and allow district administrators to amend Johnson County’s Smart Start plan — the document district officials developed prior to the start of the 2020-21 school year to to guide education plans and modifications designed to address COVID-19 concerns.

In this week’s print edition of the Bulletin, it was reported that masks would no longer be required, however, the approval of the exception does not necessarily mean that, as administrators will decide the best path forward for the district in the coming days. 

“Tomorrow we have an admin meeting to go over this and look at the Smart Start to see what that’s going to look like, how that’s going to change, what’s going to change in order to move forward with having this,” Superintendent Jim Wagner said. “Just because we have this does not mean we’re not going to be masked.” 

The exception, which was approved by state health officer Dr. Alexia Harrist Monday afternoon, exempts the district from all public health orders pertaining to K-12 schools, but it will be up to district administrators to decide which of those exemptions they wish to follow. 

The letter sent to Harrist seeking the exception is signed by board President Dave Belus. Wagner said that JCSD No. 1 meets the guidelines that Harrist told state superintendents could allow for exemptions. After learning that Johnson County met those guidelines, Wagner reached out to the board to see if they wanted him to send the request. 

“I sent it through an email,” Wagner said. “I told board members to simply reply, not all, just individual board members, so I could get kind of a feel for, as a board, to see where everybody was at. Overwhelmingly the group said go ahead and send it.” 

The request gives a variety of exemptions that JCSD No. 1 can choose to follow, including not requiring masks for students, teachers, school staff or visitors for the first time this school year. In addition, the district would not have to abide by the current public health orders limiting room occupancy to 50 people in rooms where social distancing is not possible or 250 people when social distancing is possible. Based on the exception, the district could also remove requirements for social distancing and masks during school transportation.

According to the exception request submitted by the district, the request was made because of the low number of “active laboratory-confirmed cases” in Johnson County — zero at the time of the request. In addition, the request states that there were no new cases reported in the county during the 14 days before the request was made.

In seeking the exception, the district wrote that it is, “prepared to accommodate students and staff who choose not to attend school without public health precautions.”

The district will, however, “continue to follow isolation and quarantine and other recommendations from public health officials,” according to the request.

The exception request also states that if Johnson County case levels rise or an outbreak occurs in the school, Harrist or county health officer Dr. Mark Schueler could revoke the exception.

Administrators will now meet in the coming days to discuss the district’s Smart Start Plan to determine which exemptions they wish to follow.

Ryan Hanrahan joined the Bulletin in October 2020 and covers schools, county government and conservation. If you have ideas or feedback, reach out at ryan@buffalobulletin.com.

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