JACKSON, Wyo. — When students and teachers plan their first-day-of-school outfits on Monday, Aug, 30, they’ll be factoring masks into the equation.
The Teton County School District Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday night to require masks in schools as the school year begins. It was a long and often confusing meeting as board members attempted to clarify and understand county risk levels, but they landed on requiring masks as long as Teton County is in “Red” (high) or “Orange” (moderate) risk levels for COVID-19. If risk levels fall to Yellow or Green, masks will be recommended, but not required.
Public comment at the meeting was split almost exactly down the middle. Some parents asked the board to approve the mask requirement while others asked to leave the decision up to parents. But comment submitted via email tells a different story. A large majority of the more than 60 emails, including from healthcare professionals and educators, favored a mask requirement. While at an Aug. 11 meeting parents threatened to pull their kids from school if the district did require masks, some parents wrote in this week that they would not send their kids back to school if the district did not require them.
“I don’t have a good alternative, or the income to support private education, but I do have a family with a healthcare crisis. Passing COVID around our family could literally be the straw to break the camels [sic] back,” one parent wrote. “The science shows that masking lessens the transmission between people and with our children not vaccinated at their age, and with the Delta variant showing to be much more transmissible, I am struggling to understand how this year would look any different than last year as far as protocols are concerned.”
Several comments expressed concern for kids under 12 specifically, since they are not yet eligible to get the vaccine. The district struck vaccine language out of the mask requirement, but left room to revisit and revise as the year progresses.
Teton Health District Officer Travis Riddell was poised to implement a county-wide mask order at noon today, Aug. 26, which would expire in 10 days unless extended by town or county elected officials. No official announcement has been made yet. The order would apply to the school district, but the district’s mask order could out-live it as long as Teton County remains at a high or moderate risk level for COVID-19.
The mask mandate does not include a parental exemption, but does leave room for medical exemptions from a licensed physician, advanced nurse practitioner, or physician assistant.
“[It’s about] independent versus interdependent,” said Betsy Carlin. “If you opt out, that may be what works for your family. But we need to be thinking as a board.”