West Ada Board to keep masks, approves conditions to revisit mandate

West Ada School District
Posted at 10:56 AM, Oct 13, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-14 11:04:32-04

MERIDIAN, Idaho — Masks will remain in West Ada classrooms until the discussion is revisited barring certain conditions are met.

The West Ada Board of Trustees voted Wednesday to keep the mask requirement in the classroom, with a notification system for when a case is identified in a school. The mask requirement will be revisited when any one of three triggers are met:

  • Crisis Standards of Care removed from both St. Luke's and Saint Alphonsus hospitals in the Treasure Valley
  • COVID-19 vaccine available to students 5-11
  • Moderate community spread

The Board of Trustees held the special meeting Wednesday beginning at 7 p.m. to talk about COVID-19 protocols within the school district.

Guests involved in the meeting included:

  • Russell Duke/Central District Health
  • Kathryn Turner, PhD MPH Deputy State Epidemiologist and Chief, Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention (remote)
  • Elke Shaw Tulloch/Administrator, Idaho Division of Public Health (remote)
  • Amy White/ Attorney Anderson, Julian and Hull/District Attorney
  • Tracey Garner/Health Services Supervisor
  • Jeanne Buschine/Supervisor of Counseling

Different approaches to monitoring cases and mask policies were discussed. Board members discussed formulating a system to enact mask requirements in individual schools based on categories set by community spread. West Ada Superintendent Dr. Derek Bub said the district has the potential to put in a effective system used on a school-by-school basis.

Board members reviewed data on positive cases in the district, showing a slight decline in the past two weeks.

"Universal masking is a policy decision. When we use the word mandate, to me equates to a law, but universal masking is the recommendation," Turner said. "If a case does show up in a school and everyone has a mask on, there is no quarantine. That is another compelling reason for people to have masks on."

Related: Health officials 'cautiously optimistic' at small dip in COVID-19 data

Central District Health Director Russell Duke said the CDH recommendation is universal masking indoors and "whenever it's feasible."

When asked if students transmitting COVID-19 to family members from school, Duke said spread is coming from families but it is "next to impossible" to pinpoint exactly where spread is coming from.

Related: West Ada revokes face mask opt out option, temporarily requiring masks for all students and staff

Duke discussed orders and said recent changes to the CDH board make him believe it is unlikely orders will come out on masks.

"I will tell you in working with our board commissioners, at this point in the game, it is highly unlikely they would allow it (an order) to stand," Duke said. "Our board membership, as the public is well aware, has changed. We never had a unanimous agreement early on in the pandemic as far as the board membership. With the changes that have occurred recently, I think it's highly unlikely that you'll ever see an order coming out of CDH for COVID restrictions."

Board members repeatedly brought up the impact of wearing face coverings on mental health. District statistics on suicide prevention reports show the number of reports is around equal to the average number of reports in a school year.

Related: Idaho’s track record does not bode well for COVID-19 vaccination rollout for kids

"We know that children are resilient, and they are also mirrors of us as adults," said Jeanne Buschine, supervisor of counseling. "Little mirrors is what I want you to think of them as being. If there is a heightened level of stress in our community, we are going to see it in our kids."

The West Ada School District put the initial mask requirement in place on September 8.