Boise parents voice frustrations over mask rules, Caldwell keeps masks optional

Boise patrons attend a meeting of district trustees Monday night. Nik Streng/Idaho Education News

As she spoke at a Boise School District meeting Monday, Boise’s Tracey Doyle motioned to her sign, which read “My Child, My Choice.” Her outstretched finger hovered over the final word.

“It’s about choice,” she said.

Like nearly 100 of her peers, Doyle showed up to the board meeting to show her displeasure with the trustee’s recent decision to require face coverings when school starts on Aug. 16.

Face coverings weren’t on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, but district parents showed up anyway, many wearing yellow articles of clothing to show their support for optional masks. The yellow attire was started by the group Smile West Ada, who flooded a board meeting in yellow shirts in May.

Doyle said Boise parents decided to adopt the yellow attire to show solidarity with their West Ada counterparts.

Boise trustees met in special session Aug. 3 to reinstate the mask mandate in the district. While the meeting was attended by just a couple dozen district patrons that day, the board members in attendance were met with anger. Patrons called the trustees “cowards” and “sheep” after the mandate was passed.

The board room was at capacity Monday night, but there was little uproar.

Doyle has a 7 year-old grandson in the district, as well as a 20-year-old son who has Down syndrome and is enrolled in Boise’s Student Transition Education Program (STEP). She said her son was very upset about the change to the mask policy.

But Doyle said what really made her upset was a lack of transparency. The board’s special meeting wasn’t announced until the day prior and many district patrons were unaware it was taking place.

“There was no input from anybody,” she said.

Malaena Kelson was also upset about the last-minute meeting, saying she heard about it from a friend and was unable to attend.

“They did not tell us that they were going to change back,” she said.

Kelson has three children in the district, one in seventh grade, one in fourth grade and one entering kindergarten. She has concerns about her children learning in an environment with mandatory masks.

“It’s awful,” she said. “How are the kids going to learn to read?”

Kelson said she has considered removing her children from Boise schools due to the mask requirement, but said it’s not really an option for her family at this time.

“I’m so infuriated that our only choice is to not wear a mask at school and have the children fight the adult fight,” Kelson said. She plans to send her children to school with yellow clothes or a yellow pin to show their support for masking being optional.

“They can make a statement there, too,” she said. “The kids don’t have a voice in this. They just have to do what the adults say.”

On Thursday afternoon, Boise School District sent out a post clarifying that while most people in attendance on Monday were against the mask mandate, the vast majority of feedback the district has received from parents and teachers has been in favor of requiring masks.

The change followed updated guidance from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Central District Health. The state is seeing a spike in coronavirus cases, corresponding with the emergence of the delta variant, with weekly increases closing in on highs seen in January and cases among children on the rise.

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West Ada is scheduled to meet Tuesday night. There are no mask-related items listed on the agenda, but the state’s largest school district does not need to hold a board meeting to enact a mask mandate. During the June meeting, trustees gave Superintendent Derek Bub the authority to make coronavirus mitigation policies as necessary, including mask mandates. Bub has previously said that he would be making those decisions at the building level instead of sweeping district-wide mandates.

Regardless, parent groups on Facebook have discussed attending meetings to urge Bub to keep masks optional. Parents on both sides of the mask discussion have organized, with pro-mask groups also voicing their opinions on the mandate.

The discussion has led to members of other groups, like anti-right-wing extremism group The Idaho 97 Project, to attend meetings as well.

Caldwell

Caldwell trustees Monday approved the district’s proposal to recommend face coverings for students and staff members for the start of the school year.

While the voting was unanimous, several board members voiced their concern about not having a mask mandate for the opening of the year. Board members said they would like to meet regularly in the fall to look at COVID-19 case rates in the district.

“As soon as those numbers get higher, we will meet again, trustees, and have to do what is best for our community,” board chair Marisela Pesina said.

Caldwell’s mask mandate was lifted in June, well after the end of the 2020-21 school year. The change to the mask policy in June stipulated that masks may become required as needed “should outbreaks in schools occur in the future.”

Caldwell School Board members met Monday night.

The district surveyed 1,444 parents (1,302 in English and 142 in Spanish) in late July. Of those surveyed, 53% said they want the district to allow parents to decide on whether masks are worn in schools and 47% wanted the district to follow the CDC guidelines.

But when asked if they would support the district following the CDC recommendations until vaccines are available to younger children, 58% of parents agreed.

Caldwell also sent out a survey to staff, with 306 responses. On a spectrum of “strongly disagree” to “strongly agree,” 33% strongly disagreed with the CDC’s mask recommendations for schools while only 23% strongly agreed with the guidance.

The first day of school for Caldwell is Aug. 18.

 

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