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Enrollment up in area religious schools where masks are optional

Enrollment is increasing in several Kansas City-area schools without mask mandates.

“Our enrollment is up again, which is obviously a huge blessing,” Janet Fogh, head of Maranatha Christian Academy in Shawnee, told a local newspaper. “Our school board made the decision to allow masks to be optional. So we have some students who wear masks because parents asked them to do so, and some students who don’t wear masks because parents told them that’s what they prefer. So parents are able to choose what’s best for their children. We haven’t had any issues so far. And it’s been very popular.”

Last school year, Maranatha was among the first in the region to bring students back to classrooms while public schools stayed remote. The Christian school saw a boost in enrollment that is continuing this year.

Fogh said the decision on masks was “certainly part of many parents’ thought processes” as they enrolled their children this summer. She said 424 students were enrolled as of last week, up from 404 last year, and 321 pre-pandemic. The school also is implementing three feet of social distance when possible and continually cleaning and disinfecting, she said.

“We’re thankful and appreciative for the option to wear masks or not wear masks,” she said. “Things have started off extremely well with normal activities. Sports are in session. We’re planning homecoming. Instead of asking, ‘can we do it?’ we’re assuming we can. And I love that because that means in (our) minds, things are back to normal. We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re trying to do our best to keep our kids safe.”

On the Missouri side, Summit Christian Academy has its largest fall enrollment ever.  The Lee’s Summit school began classes with 1060 preschool-12th grade students. In the fall of 2020, the school opened with 845 students.

Catholic diocese school officials on both sides of the state line say they are leaving it up to individual schools to decide on COVID-19 protocols. Most, but not all, require masks. On the Missouri side, about 80 percent of the 33 schools in the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph are requiring masks of all staff, visitors and students, said Karen Kroh, superintendent of schools.

“Recognizing that the diocese has schools in urban, suburban and rural settings with different municipal and county health department guidelines, the diocese has left the decision whether or not to require masks up to each pastor and principal,” she said.

On the Kansas side, strategies differ depending on health orders and case trends in each school community, said Vince Cascone, superintendent of schools for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

“You could have a school in a rural area that really is not having any cases of COVID-19 in the area, and they’re going to handle it differently than maybe Wyandotte County, where the vaccination rate is lower,” Cascone said.

In Overland Park, the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy is going beyond the Johnson County health order to mandate that all staff and students in all grade levels wear masks, said Adam Tilove, the head of school.

“I am not an epidemiologist,” he said. “I have a COVID task force full of doctors, and none of them are epidemiologists. Johnson County has its own epidemiologist. We have our own health department right here. So I’m going to do exactly what they say are the best policies. I don’t want to be more conservative than them or more lenient than them. As soon as I deviate from that, then I’m saying I’m smarter than the epidemiologists. And that’s not my job.”

CDC data shows that children are at very low risk of death from Covid. Currently, a child has 300% greater risk of drowning than dying of complications from Covid-19.

–Alan Goforth | Metro Voice