Pocatello-Chubbuck approves — then rescinds — mask mandate

The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District has changed course on a mask mandate it put in place earlier this week.

The district’s nearly 12,000 students will not be required to mask up after the weekend. The about face came during a board meeting Friday and followed outcry over a mask mandate trustees had approved Wednesday in response to an uptick of confirmed local cases of COVID-19.

A complaint filed with the district Thursday alleged that the board’s process for approving the mandate lacked transparency and may have violated Idaho’s open meeting laws, the district announced in a news release.

Trustees say they will likely take up the issue again at a future date.

Districts and charters across Idaho have adjusted their school safety policies amid spikes in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the opening weeks of the school year. Xavier Charter in Twin Falls and Idaho Arts Charter flipped to requiring masks this week.

As of Wednesday, at least 20 Idaho districts and charters, including the Boise district, had made masks mandatory. The Filer School District decided to close schools districtwide Sept. 24 through Oct.4, citing “excessive” staff absences and substitute teacher shortages; school officials say the shortages are only partially due to COVID-19, the Associated Press reported.

Meanwhile, administrators in the state’s largest school district, West Ada, announced Friday that a recently implemented mask mandate for students, staff and visitors will remain in place through at least Oct. 8. To support its decision, the district pointed to substitute teacher shortages, strain placed on school nurses charged with contact tracing and hospitals being forced to ration care as cases surge.

Idaho EdNews is following the decisions of trustees and updating a county map daily with school closures and mask mandates. Below the map is a platform for you to tell us what’s happening in your school. We’ll share your experiences with our readers. We’d like to hear from teachers, students and parents.

Like other districts and charter schools across the state, Pocatello-Chubbuck has weathered a rise in confirmed cases of COVID-19 in recent weeks. Bannock County, where the district is situated, had 331 new confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, according to Southeastern Idaho Public Health’s latest update.

Keeping kids in school factored into the district’s prior decision to require masks, said Pocatello-Chubbuck Superintendent Doug Howell. “As we continue to prioritize in-person learning, we recognize that to remain in school and to maintain all of our activities, we need the cooperation of our staff, learners, parents and patrons as we all persist in navigating the challenging conditions COVID-19 has on operating schools safely and effectively.”

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