LIBERTY — At the Tuesday, Sept. 21 Liberty Board of Education meeting, five people spoke on the issue of COVID-19 during public comment, with a majority addressing the district's universal masking policy.
Public comment is limited to 3 minutes per speaker.
Stephanie Gordon, who has presented at a school board meeting before, spoke first.
“I am here again because every week I talk to (Superintendent) Jeremy Tucker. H says that we are looking over masks,” she said. “I am not sure who this 'we' is, but masks need to be optional. I am here to make masking be optional.”
She offered an example of 76,000 people at a Chiefs game, saying some of those same people, who didn’t wear masks at the game, are now asked to put on masks in the district.
“Masks don’t work for a virus like this,” she said. “You are bending science and making masking political. You are using my kid as a political pawn. You are abusing them and you don’t have my permission to mask them every day. More than that, you don’t have my permission to tell them that it is to keep others safe. The masks are causing headaches.”
She also called the requirement to wear masks “propaganda and smoke and mirrors.”
“If other parents want their kids masked, do it. I don’t want it forced on them. It’s my job to keep them healthy,” she said.
Beth Farr, who has two children enrolled in Lewis & Clark Elementary School, is one of the founders of the Liberty Parents for Public Schools Facebook group. Farr said the group supports the LPS school board and district administration's choice to follow the recommendations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and area public health departments for reducing transmissions of COVID-19 in schools, which includes masking.
“We understand the decisions affecting the health and safety of our students are some of the hardest you will make,” she told the board. “We are grateful and strongly encourage you to continue (universally requiring masks) as we get more students vaccinated and our community infection rates drop below safe thresholds set forth by the CDC.”
Farr also presented the board with a petition, began earlier this month, that now has more than 860 signatures.
“The signees include LPS family, parents, staff, retired staff, medical professionals and community members. The petition also includes personal messages of support for the mask requirement. Your unwavering dedication to our students doesn’t go unnoticed. Thank you for staying focused on what is the safest option for our children and for believing in science,” Farr said.
Another speaker, Karen Botts, started her comments by posing a question.
“If you came across a young child hanging on the side of an abyss and all you had to do is reach out to be that lifeline, would you do it?”
Mask proponent Botts told the board the story of her 11-year-old’s diagnosis with 22q syndrome, which can result in social difficulties, developmental delays or learning disabilities. Individuals with 22q can also be impacted by heart defects, lung issues and immune problems.
“Last year, my kids did virtual school,” she explained. “My son lost out and I was worried, but then LPS announced it had a mitigation plan in place that included masks and these masks have been my son’s lifeline.”
Dr. Melanie Lively is the mother of four children: two graduates and two still in high school. She attended the board meeting, she said, with the support of other health care providers, specifically fellow Northland pediatricians. She mentioned medical pediatric groups and 54 doctors.
“Thank you for the ongoing efforts including masks, physical distancing and handwashing,” she said to the board. “We respect each of you. We want to do everything possible to have kids stay in school. As pediatricians, the focus is always on preventative medicine. Each of us can tell you stories of kids in our offices. There have been 5.5 million that have tested positive since the pandemic began and 400 children have died. I can tell you this as a pediatrician who takes care of kids, I am not OK with these numbers. Keep masking to protect our most vulnerable.”
Perry Seeton addressed the board as a grandparent.
“My kids graduated from this district and I can say that there are a lot of things the district has done right,” he said. “I have read your procedures and looked at the dashboard. It’s very important to be transparent. Occasionally, there are things that go wrong. There was an incident were a classroom teacher tested positive and the students and family weren’t made aware until the teacher sent out an email four days later. I am coming forward to make sure the protocols are followed. I want to bring that to your attention so school administrators and staff can do better for children in the classroom.”
District spokesman Dallas Ackerman said the district is in a more unique situation with the mask topic in schools as four of the district's schools have Kansas City addresses and Kansas City has a mask mandate, while other cities do not.
“We are following Board Policy BBA, in which the Board of Education has delegated to the Superintendent of Schools the responsibility to carry out the adopted policies of the Board of Education,” he explained. “Additionally, Board policy EBB directs the management of the risk of transmission of communicable disease in school or at school activities in accordance with guidelines provided by state, local county or city health departments. This management may include, but is not limited to, exclusion from school or reassignment as needed for the health and safety of students and staff.”