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‘This Board Is Not Your Enemy. COVID Is Your Enemy’
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Friday, August 20, 2021
 

STORY AND PHOTO BY KAREN BOSSICK

Blaine County School District students will be required to wear face masks for at least the first month and a half when they return to school on Aug. 23.

Board members voted 4-1 Thursday night to approve COVID mitigation strategies that include wearing masks, with Trustee Amber Larna casting the dissenting vote. The plan can be amended if conditions in the county improve, and Board President Keith Roark said he will put the issue on the agenda for review in October.

“What I hear is people want to make it optional,” he said. “But, when you send your child to school without a mask, you’re also making a decision for others … the bus driver who gets your child to school, the teacher who’s with your child all day long, the food service workers who feed your children.

“I hear people say that only a few children die. But children can infect adults and we cannot operate without bus drivers, custodians, teachers. The whole system has to be as safe as it can. We have the duty of protecting all children. You have the right to decide what your child does off campus. But we have all sorts of regulations in school that might not be what a parent would have their child do in their home.”

The vote came after anti-mask protestors disrupted Tuesday’s meeting. Trustee Lara Stone said the board received 250 written comments, which were fairly divided. Board members spent dozens of hours reading them, thinking about them and responding to as many as they could, she added.

The plan that trustees approved offers mitigation strategies similar to last spring’s except for the way quarantining is handled, said Superintendent James Foudy.

If an individual tests positive and those in contact were wearing masks, only the ill person needs to be quarantined. Others will not need to quarantine, he said. But if students are not masked any staff and students who come in contact with an infected person would have to quarantine at least seven days, with eight staff members involved in a contact tracing investigation.

“Ultimately, we want our kids back in school five days a week for 100 percent of the year,” he said. “The hybrid model was harmful for many kids. And it was tough on families. We would like to make it from the first day of school on Aug. 23 to the end without mass quarantines.”

Foudy added that classroom teachers conduct a hundred assessments a day, reading the room for engagement and understanding. When you’re teaching remotely this is impaired. You cannot read a room; you cannot see if your kids are engaged, he said.

“We are playing catch-up right now. It’s paramount we find a way to get every one of these kids back in school 100 percent of the time.”

If 24 elementary students aren’t wearing masks, contact tracing guidance from CDC suggests 100 percent of the students would be quarantined.

Board members were told that students were willing to wear masks last year understanding it was expected of them.

Trustee Larna noted that many of the written comments had come from parents “who begged us not to mask their kids…not your kids, but their kids. All of these students have been out and about going to sports, and there hasn’t been spread. Last year there was no spread. I don’t believe we should have a mask mandate when our cities and state don’t have one,” she said.

But Stone noted that Idaho Statute explicitly entrusts school boards with the health of students at school: “A mask helps protect you but it also helps protect the people around you. All of our parents want kids in school. And, while we’d prefer not to wear masks, that’s the way to keep kids in school.”

Roark said he was not going to argue with the slew of health professionals, including the Centers for Disease Control, American Academy of Pediatricians and the National Institutes of Health that have stressed that students should be masked.

“What we do know is we had masks last year and they seemed to work. What I want to do is keep students in school every day for the entire 175 days of the school calendar. I’m not sure that everyone understands what quarantining does to a child’s ability to learn. If you’re quarantined, it means you’re going to be out of school at least seven days. You can miss multiple days of classes and not be affected.”

Stone said she was frustrated that there are no indoor mask mandates in the county “when everyone’s  looking at the same data we are.” But you can choose whether you go into a store, she added. Kids can’t choose whether they go into school. And they can’t choose who they go into school with.

Roark said he was frustrated by the rancor that has developed around the issue.

“What’s happened in the 43 years since I brought my family here? We were a community that cared about each other. We could disagree while being civil. And that no longer seems to be the case.” Then addressing those who don’t want masks, he added, “This board is not your enemy. COVID 19 is your enemy.”

 

 

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