Boise to consider lifting its mask mandate in schools

The Boise School District is considering making masks optional after requiring face coverings for the entire school year.

Optional masking is included in a set of proposed health plan changes that Idaho’s second largest school district announced to parents in a Friday letter, seeking community feedback about the plan. A shift to optional masking would be guided by community infectious disease transmission rates, spread in schools, operational impact from employee and student absences and health care professional input, the proposed tweaks say.

The new plan “manages our response to a more predictable spread of infectious disease,” according to a presentation linked in the letter.

The district’s board of trustees will discuss the proposed changes at its Monday board meeting, spokesperson Dan Hollar said. Hollar said the survey will close 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 8. Trustees will evaluate survey responses, he said.

The district will monitor local conditions and implement “pandemic level mitigation measures” for the remainder of the school year until the shift is made, the draft plan says.

Also included in the revised plans are a return to “pre-pandemic visitor and volunteer protocols” along with reinstated school activities like dances, clubs and field trips.

Discussions about ending the mask mandate in Boise School District — one of few Idaho school districts with mask requirements in place — come as several states phase out their mask mandates in schools, CNN reported Tuesday.

Chalkbeat reported last week that 60% of the country’s 500 largest school districts require masks. But some health experts are questioning the practice — at odds with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the U.S. Department of Education, which advocate for strict mask rules, according to Chalkbeat.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said last month that the omicron surge will peak in most states by mid-February. In Idaho, deputy state epidemiologist Kathryn Turner declared Tuesday that Idaho had its COVID-19 case peak in the latest surge around the third to fourth week of January. That aligns with COVID-19 metrics that Idaho Education News reported Monday. Turner told reporters that the fall aligns with declines in the state’s COVID-19 test positivity rate.

Officials caution that Idaho is still reeling from sky-high case counts and a partial hospital crisis declaration. Although omicron is believed to be less severe than previous coronavirus variants, hospitalizations have risen to levels only seen during delta’s surge in the Gem State. Pediatric hospitalizations hit all-time highs in January, state data show.

Hospitals in three health districts in southern Idaho, including the Boise and Nampa areas, are allowed to operate under crisis standards of care. The state-implemented guidance lets medical professionals ration care under extreme strain.

“The pandemic is not finished with us yet,” said state health department Director Dave Jeppesen. About 34% of Idahoans seeking testing for COVID-19 tested positive in late January. That rate is seven times higher than the 5% goal, Jeppesen said.

A Boise parent group is planning an “Endemic Is Now” rally from 4-6 p.m. on Friday in front of the Boise School District. The Boise School Parents’ Association is asking for masks to be optional and a return of activities and school visitors.

Kyle Pfannenstiel

Kyle Pfannenstiel

Reporter Kyle Pfannenstiel covers the implementation of policy in Idaho’s K-12 public school system. He’s a military brat and former health care reporter who holds degrees in Journalism and Political Science from University of Idaho. Follow Kyle on Twitter @pfannyyy. He can be reached at [email protected].

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