Doctors ask Idaho Falls trustees to require masks in elementary schools

Several local doctors have asked Idaho Falls School District trustees to make face coverings mandatory for elementary students, according to a letter released Tuesday.

The letter, signed by 14 doctors from hospitals in Idaho Falls and Blackfoot, cites concerns about rising COVID-19 infection rates statewide and high infection rates among children — and comes days after Idaho Falls approved a school reopening plan that makes masks optional.

Doctors who signed the letter say the plan doesn’t go far enough.

“Until a vaccine is approved for children 12 and under,” the letter reads, “a relaxed D91 mask policy leaves our Elementary School Students, Teachers, Faculty and Families particularly vulnerable to the spread of infection.”

The letter submitted to Idaho Falls School Board members signed by local medical professionals.

The coronavirus vaccine is still only available for those 12 and older. About 45% of eligible residents of Bonneville County have been vaccinated, state numbers show.

The doctors are asking patrons to publicly endorse their letter and plan to provide a list of endorsements to trustees during a board meeting set for Wednesday night. While trustees did not discuss masks on Wednesday, the doctors hope the board will schedule a special meeting to consider their request for a mask mandate.

Masks were a heated topic of debate in Idaho Falls last school year, fueling pushback from some community members and sparking recall campaigns against two trustees.

Idaho Falls elementary and middle schoolers will return to school on Aug. 25. High school students are set to start on Aug. 26.

With students heading back to school over the coming weeks, similar debates continue to play out in other districts. Boise patrons protested the district’s recent mask mandate during a meeting on Monday.

West Ada trustees met Tuesday, with no mask-related items on the agenda. Still, well over 100 district patrons crowded the board meeting to show support for an optional mask policy. New West Ada Superintendent Derek Bub has kept masks optional for the start of school.

Here’s a closer look at what’s happening in East Idaho’s other large districts:

Bonneville

Bonneville trustees voted on the district’s reopening plan Wednesday night, which has a tiered system for the mask policy based on the level of transmission in the district. Masks are optional in Bonneville schools, as long as the district is in green (low transmission) or yellow (substantial transmission). If the district drifts into the red (high transmission), then face coverings will be required.

The first day for Bonneville schools will be Aug. 30.

Pocatello-Chubbuck

Students and staff members in Pocatello-Chubbuck plan to start the school year with a masks-optional policy.

The board has not met since the release of new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which asks that people wear face coverings while indoors regardless of vaccination status. Pocatello-Chubbuck’s next meeting is set for Aug. 17. Trustees are scheduled to vote on a reopening plan.

Pocatello-Chubbuck’s first day is set for Aug. 25.

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