Boise School District trustees agreed to make masks optional for students when they return to school in the fall.
Trustees approved a new pandemic plan for 2021-22 during their Monday night meeting. The plan was presented by administration and the vote was unanimous. Trustee Alicia Estey was not present for Monday’s meeting.
The pandemic plan includes making face coverings optional for vaccinated students, staff members and visitors. Everyone who is unvaccinated is encouraged to wear a mask.
Boise was among the last school districts in the state to have a mask mandate. The West Ada and Caldwell districts changed their masking rules in June, with West Ada deciding to keep masks mandatory through the 2020-21 school year, but making them optional for the 2021-22. Idaho Falls, Nampa and Pocatello-Chubbuck all made masks optional in May.
Health services administrator Tamara Fredrickson said students will be required to wear masks when in health offices, as local medical facilities require.
Other changes for the new school year include more lenient distancing requirements, relaxed gathering limits, and a return to pre-pandemic visitor protocols. Field trips will be considered on a case-by-case basis.
Unchanged in the 2021-22 plan will be:
- a focus on hand sanitizing/washing.
- disinfecting surfaces.
- protocols for when someone is sick.
- updating building ventilation systems.
- training and educating staff, students and parents on safety practices.
The district will continue to follow Southern Idaho Conference guidelines for sports activities.
While staff are not required to tell the district if they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, area director Brian Walker said he believes that more than 80% of staff members have been vaccinated, according to discussions he’s had with building leaders. The district is not asking families about student vaccination status.
As of Monday, vaccines for COVID-19 are only available for children 12 and older. Students enrolled in Boise Online School will be able to transfer to their brick-and-mortar school if the vaccine is made available for students younger than 12 during the school year.
The district sent out a survey to parents and staff members, which showed that mask wearing was not high on the list of priorities for either group. Among staff members (1,552 responses), 79.7% said hand sanitizing and hand washing was important to them, while 64.3% said they wanted to continue disinfecting surfaces. Only 26.6% listed mask wearing as an important item.
Among parents (5,158 responses), 72.3% were for hand sanitizing/hand washing and 61.3% were for cleaning surfaces. Only 28.9% supported mask wearing.
Physical distancing (30.5% of staff and 26.6% of parents) and gathering limits (35% of staff and 26.8% of parents) and none (13.8% of staff and 21.5% of parents) were the other options from the survey. The majority of those surveyed (74.6% of staff and 60.3% of parents) said they agree that the district should continue to monitor community virus cases, and revisit risk mitigation strategies during the school year.