A divided Coeur d’Alene School Board opted against requiring students to wear face coverings amid a spike of COVID-19 cases in North Idaho that is forcing hospitals to ration care.
Members of the district’s Board of Trustees voted 3-2 Monday night for a COVID-19 reopening plan that “strongly recommends” – not requires – masks.
The plan details the masking policy and testing information. Trustees made only one change to the draft plan prior to approving the document: Adding language to strongly recommend face masks.
Jennifer Brumley, Chair of the Board, proposed the amendment. She pointed out that there are downsides to hiding children for an indeterminate time, inconsistency among scientists and experts, and a lack in guidance from the Gov. Brad Little and the state Legislature.
“The same science is where I have to ask myself, ‘How do I mandate student masking every day for seven hours when, before and after school, those children will be in restaurants, businesses and churches where people are packed together and not masked?’” She said.
Most medical professionals agree that masking is safe for schools to prevent the spread of COVID-19. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are among organizations that recommend that masks be required in schools.
As COVID-19 patients continue filling hospital beds throughout the region, Idaho passed crisis standards of care last week. Because they are unable to care for all patients, hospitals can provide lower levels of care under crisis standards of care.
In the Coeur d’Alene School District, there were 188 students and 15 staff members as of Monday who were out due to a positive COVID-19 case or potential exposure, according to the district’s COVID-19 webpage. Since Aug. 23, the district has reported 123 cases of positive testing.
Superintendent Shon BOcker said that he believes the district does the best it can in the current circumstances.
“I think it’s just important to recognize that even though we have these really alarming numbers that we currently have today, we’ve been in school four days. Five days, counting today,” Bocker stated. “The likelihood of that spread occurring and generating those numbers by us opening our doors at school last Tuesday is very slim. Those kids came in contact or parents, whatever the reason, came in contact prior to school starting.”
The board’s decision Monday night followed a public comment period with speakers with opposing views of the mask debate. Brumley stated that trustees have been bullied and intimidated by members of both the public and the media on both sides of this issue.
Lisa May, Vice Chair Rebecca Smith, and Trustee were both against the plan. Smith said that she was motivated by the increase in COVID-19-related cases in Idaho. The plan was approved by a vote of 3-2.
She also said her decision went beyond the mask policy issue, saying she believes the plan doesn’t have the types of measures required by other schools that don’t require masking.
“I believe if we can implement more mitigation strategies, we also could go without masks when our positivity rate again declines to where it was in June and July,” May stated. “We have never seen this rapid of increase in cases in our community.”