Pocatello-Chubbuck trustees vote to keep masks optional

Pocatello-Chubbuck parents brandished signs opposing a requirement to wear masks in school Tuesday night.

POCATELLO — Students and staff in the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District will not be required to mask up at school after trustees voted 3-2 during a special meeting Tuesday night to keep masks optional.

The decision followed community outcry over a mask mandate trustees approved last week in response to an uptick of local cases of COVID-19. Trustees rescinded that decision two days later, and met Tuesday at Century High School to hear feedback and revisit the matter.

Parents and patrons packed the school’s auditorium in anticipation of the board’s decision, some hoisting signs opposing a mandate and others lining up to give impassioned input to the board.

“We won’t comply,” one man yelled following testimony in favor of a mask mandate.

Another man hefted an American flag in the back of the auditorium and taunted trustees to end the meeting after the board chair Dave Mattson asked attendees to hold down their cheers and applause between testimonies.

At least 17 of the 24 who addressed the board spoke against a mask mandate.

Tuesday’s meeting also followed concerns about a lack of transparency by the board. A complaint filed with the district last week alleged that the process for approving a mask mandate may have violated Idaho’s open meeting laws.

Trustees Paul Vitale and Janie Gebhardt cast the only votes in support of a mandate Tuesday.

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. As of Tuesday, at least 19 Idaho districts and charters, including the Boise School District, made masks mandatory.

Meanwhile, 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.

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 recent rise in confirmed cases of COVID-19. Cases in the district’s schools have receded somewhat in recent days, staff members told trustees Tuesday, with 64 cases among students and 14 among staff, according to the district’s latest tally.

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

Reporter Devin Bodkin covers education issues in East Idaho. He is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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