West Ada School District trustees met this week in front of a sea of yellow shirts, and attendance well over capacity.
The parents clad in yellow were there to protest a possible mask mandate, and a mask discussion wasn’t even on the agenda.
But Idaho parents are that passionate — for or against — about the prospect of school mask requirements. The divide has filtered into school board meetings and social media platforms for months.
“I’m just in awe over how much public support there is for my student self-transportation policy,” West Ada director Geoff Stands joked as he took to the podium to discuss a new policy on Tuesday night.
The West Ada Parents Association (WAPA), a group started by David Binetti, first started attending school board meetings in May to insist on making masks optional when the school year starts. Binetti purchased yellow shirts for everyone because they “stand out in a crowd.”
Boise parents mimicked the look during a board meeting this week in protest of the district’s reinstated mask mandate.
“It just took off,” Binetti said of using yellow as a symbol making masks optional.
While WAPA has its own website — Binetti is weary of using social media accounts — Facebook has become one of the top platforms for Idaho parents to discuss what’s happening in their districts and to organize gatherings. Many members of WAPA came from the Rally to Open West Ada Schools – Supporting Students & Staff! Facebook page, which has over 3,700 members. There are similar groups in West Ada, like West Ada Parent, Teacher & Staff Support, which has nearly 900 members. Another group, the West Ada Community for Health and Safety, has asked that the mask mandate return for the upcoming school year.
West Ada Superintendent Derek Bub discussed the district’s coronavirus mitigation strategies during his superintendent update on Tuesday and was met with a mixed reaction from attendees. West Ada trustees have granted Bub the authority to implement COVID-19 mitigation measures, including mask mandates, without needing board approval.
The audience applauded Bub’s promotion of parental choice and his announcement that in-person learning is a priority. But Bub’s announcement that a mask mandate is still on the table was met with anger from those in attendance.
The district is preparing to send out surveys to parents, Bub said. Some current ideas include masked pods of students, alternating class start times to avoid traffic in hallways and an in-person version of Virtual School House, with a staff member supervising the students.
At the end of his update, Bub addressed the upset parents in attendance, saying he wants to make sure patrons who want more mitigation measures are met with respect.
“We’re asking for parent choice. We’re giving parent choice. If a parent chooses that, lets allow them to have that choice, too,” he said. “Everybody needs to have their choice. And if we give everybody their choice, we will get through this together, arm in arm.”
Binetti would like the focus turned away from masks and onto adult vaccinations.
“What we’re saying is, we are going to be subjecting our kids to restrictions because some adults don’t want to get the vaccine? That doesn’t make sense to me,” Binetti said.
Binetti sent out a message to WAPA members on Wednesday morning praising Bub’s update.
“After a year of mandates, lockdowns, and broken promises, this was incredibly refreshing from our new superintendent,” he wrote.
What other school districts have discussed regarding masks:
Boise and Caldwell: Boise parents voice frustrations over mask rules, Caldwell keeps masks optional
Bonneville, Idaho Falls and Pocatello/Chubbuck: Doctors ask Idaho Falls trustees to require masks in elementary schools
Trustees in North Idaho’s largest district haven’t approved the district’s reopening plan, which is available online. The current draft has listed masks as optional. The board will meet in special session on Aug. 16. The first day of school in Coeur d’Alene is Sept. 7.
Trustees unanimously approved the district’s Stay in School Plan, which makes masks optional. The first day of school for Jefferson County is Aug. 25.
Trustees here met Monday to discuss the district’s operational plan. According to spokesperson Vicki Holbrook, Superintendent Marc Gee sent out a survey to district patrons for more feedback on the plan, which has masks listed as optional. If positivity rates increase in Middleton, masks will become encouraged, not required. The next scheduled meeting of the board is on Sept. 13. The first day of school in Middleton is Aug. 17.
Trustees in Nampa will be meeting on Monday with a discussion item regarding the delta variant in the Nampa community, but there is no action item scheduled regarding the district’s mask policy. The district’s reopening plan was posted on July 15. Nampa students will start the school year on Aug. 19.
Students in Valllivue will start the school year with masks optional. Trustees approved the district’s back to school plan in July. The first day of school for Vallivue students is Aug. 18.