Caldwell School District lifts mask mandate

CALDWELL — The Caldwell School Board lifted its districtwide mask mandate on a unanimous vote Monday night, with some discussion but little debate.

Effective immediately, masks will be “recommended” for students and staff in the Caldwell School District. That reverses the board’s Aug. 30 decision to mandate face coverings in school buildings, made less than two weeks into the school year as coronavirus cases surged.

The board voted Oct. 14 to reup the district’s requirement. But the recent approval of a COVID-19 vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds, combined with declining coronavirus cases, seemingly swayed trustees Monday.

“We have to leave the door open (so) that if things tank again, we can come back in and mandate the masks again,” said Trustee Trish Robertson. “Because it would be foolish to think that just because a vaccine is available for kids 5 to 11 years old, that they’re all going to get it.”

Trish Robertson

Last month, the Caldwell board followed the lead of the nearby West Ada School District, creating three thresholds at which it would reconsider its mask policy. Those were:

  • Area hospitals stop rationing care. (State hospitals are still in crisis standards of care.)
  • A moderate level of community coronavirus spread is reached. (It’s high now.)
  • A coronavirus vaccine is approved for use in children aged 5-11.

The vaccine approval was seemingly enough to tip the board’s opinion, though 5- to 11-year-olds haven’t yet had time to receive both doses of the vaccine. Rollout of first doses started last week.

Manuel Godina

Trustee Manuel Godina said he’d “like to give them some time to actually receive (the vaccine),” but eventually supported the board’s decision.

Mask discussions took up a small fraction of the nearly four-hour meeting, and only one parent offered live public comment, concerned that two-week quarantine periods for sick students had put her daughter behind in classes. And many attendees — including high school government students there to see the board’s procedures and Caldwell High School athletes who came to have their successes at state championships recognized — had filtered out by around 10 p.m. when the mask call was made.

Superintendent Shalene French will maintain her board-given power to mandate masks on a school-by-school basis to address situations like the one that arose in August, when outbreaks at three schools pushed administrators to temporarily require mask wearing in those buildings, as EdNews reported.

The Caldwell board’s decision leaves West Ada and the Boise School District as the only Treasure Valley districts with mask mandates in place.

Caldwell was the last district in Canyon County to have one.

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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