2 Lawrence school board members say district should consider increased mask use for athletes

photo by: Chance Parker

Lawrence High senior Jayden Wilson drives the ball against Blue Valley Northwest Thursday evening at LHS on Dec. 3, 2020.

At least two members of the Lawrence school board say the school district should consider requiring mask use for athletic events in other communities.

For the winter sports season, the Lawrence district has required athletes to wear masks while competing in a community that has a mask mandate to curb the spread of COVID-19. That has included games in Douglas County, but it has often not included games in other counties that lacked mask mandates.

Thus far, four high school basketball teams in Lawrence have been asked to quarantine because of positive COVID-19 tests among players, leading to canceled games and practices.

Shannon Kimball, one of seven board members, said during a recent school board meeting that the district should place a “critical eye” on its policy and consider making athletes wear masks while on the road, regardless of whether the community they’re playing in has a mask mandate in place. Kimball said she came to that conclusion because she had concerns that the athletes were playing in communities with more COVID-19 cases than Douglas County.

Additionally, when asked by the Journal-World to comment, Kelly Jones, president of the board, said she also thought mask use might need to increase.

“To protect their participation in sports and activities and to reduce COVID-19 spread to their teammates, our school communities, Lawrence and our state, athletes should wear masks as much as possible,” Jones said, indicating that the only exception should be competitions where masks pose a safety risk, such as aquatic sports.

The board as a whole has not specifically discussed the policy and previously voted to give district administration authority over decisions for activities and athletics based on the district’s adopted gating criteria.

District spokeswoman Julie Boyle previously told the Journal-World that the district’s practice was to have its teams follow the public health guidelines of whatever county they are playing in.

“The district continues to discuss and explore ways to mitigate risk for our student-athletes,” she said on Dec. 8.

Last week, the girls varsity and junior varsity basketball teams for both Lawrence High School and Free State High School were asked to quarantine because of positive COVID-19 cases among team members. They were the third and fourth basketball teams in Lawrence to quarantine this season because of the virus.

Earlier in December, the Free State boys basketball team quarantined after playing back-to-back games in Liberty, Mo., where the players did not wear masks. Additionally, the LHS boys freshman team quarantined for a positive case among team members prior to playing any games.

In light of those incidents, Jones said she still thought the students in Lawrence were dedicated to following the guidelines set out for them to participate in their activities. But she said the district and the Kansas State High School Activities Association needed to create the guidelines and then lead by example.

“In my opinion, speaking as a single school board member, KSHSAA and Kansas school districts best support athletics, activities, and academics when they rigorously prioritize masks and other COVID-19 mitigating approaches,” Jones said in an email.

Jones’ comments on the mask issue also come after she recently criticized KSHSAA for not suspending winter sports until January. The organization considered that option in November when cases of the virus were spiking across the state, but it decided against delaying the season.

KSHSAA at the time did order for the events to take place without spectators until Jan. 28. However, the organization later reversed that decision after a week of no spectators.

Jones said during a recent board meeting that she thought the organization failed to be a leader on the issue and instead placed the burden of dealing with activities amid the pandemic on individual school districts.

“While I understand they have challenging and complex considerations, it is yet another example of an opportunity in which we could have worked collectively as a state and now find we are making decisions at the individual level in different counties,” Jones said. “It has for me, as a single board member, been frustrating to see that evolution in the decision making and watch counties struggle with it.”

Lawrence schools are currently on winter break. Classes are scheduled to resume on Jan. 7, and athletic events are scheduled to continue on Jan. 8.

Related stories:

• Nov. 24, 2020 — KSHSAA allows winter sports to start on time, but with no spectators

• Dec. 8, 2020 — KSHSAA will allow parents at winter sports events beginning Thursday

• Dec. 8, 2020 — Members of Free State boys basketball team quarantining after positive COVID-19 case

• Dec. 15, 2020 — LHS, Free State girls basketball teams in quarantine for separate COVID-19 cases

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