Idaho Falls School District 91 has dropped its mask requirement.
The district board of trustees voted Monday to immediately end both the mask mandate and the overall school reopening plan to deal with COVID-19. With just less than three weeks left in the school year, the changes mean that masks will remain encouraged for students and staff who aren’t vaccinated but will not be required.
Both changes were passed 3-1 by the school board. Trustee Elizabeth Cogliati voted against the changes and trustee Larry Wilson was not at the meeting.
“At this point in time, a mandate or a requirement seems to be assuming a level of risk that no longer exists,” Superintendent George Boland said.
Over the weekend the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance for school operations. That guidance recommends that schools continue requiring masks and taking other preventative measures through the end of the school year.
Trustee Paul Haacke argued that guidance was meant to cover places that were still seeing a high number of cases in schools or community spread. District 91 has reported 13 total cases of the virus among students since April 12 and zero cases among staff members.
Haacke also addressed concerns from trustees that a change now could lead to an increase in cases during the final week of the school year. He said that other school districts in the region, some of which have gone without a mask requirement for at least two months, did not see a significant rise in cases among students.
“If we look at the surrounding districts from when they removed their (mandates), I don’t think we’ll see your concern about having it be a catalyst for increasing cases,” Haacke said.
Bonneville County is currently averaging 38 cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents. The updated CDC guidance considers that a moderate transmission rate for the virus and recommends schools at that level maintain at least 3 feet of social distancing and implement randomized screening tests
The trustee decided against allowing individual teachers to require masks in their classrooms for the remainder of the school year. Boland said that would create potential conflicts with students who have already been vaccinated against the virus. Trustee Hillary Radcliffe added that this late in the school year, students will likely be aware of their teacher’s preferences about masks.
The district will need to establish a new COVID-19 operations plan for the 2021-2022 school year in order to receive millions in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. Discussions of that plan will likely take place over the summer under incoming superintendent James Shank.