The Boise School District Board of Trustees approved a plan to require face coverings for all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status, during a specially called meeting on Tuesday night.
Just less than a month ago on July 12, trustees lifted mask rules and made face coverings optional for vaccinated students, staff and visitors. Everyone who was unvaccinated was encouraged to wear a mask. But new health guidelines from national and state officials pushed trustees to reinstate its mask mandate.
The decision was unanimous, and was met with an uproar from the couple dozen district patrons who attended the meeting. The meeting room turned into a chorus of parents calling the board members “sheep” and “cowards” and asking for their resignations.
On July 27, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued new guidelines, including that vaccinated people should still wear masks while indoors, in places such as K-12 schools in communities with substantial or high coronavirus transmission rates. Days later, Central District Health, which oversees Ada County, aligned its K-12 guidance with the new CDC recommendations.
The plan was presented on Tuesday by Deputy Superintendent Lisa Roberts, who said the spread of the Delta variant of COVID-19 is causing the current changes to guidance. On Tuesday afternoon, Idaho Department of Health and Welfare announced that the Delta variant is now the dominant variant of the coronavirus in Idaho.
“We didn’t see this Delta variant coming,” said trustee Elizabeth Langley. “And if we don’t get protections in place, every variant is going to throw us for a loop.”
As of Tuesday, Roberts said Ada county has 140.5 positive cases of COVID-19 per 100,000 residents, putting the county at high levels of spread according to the CDC’s metrics. This is up from 88.67 cases per 100,000 population in the week of July 26. Roberts added that the positivity rate among children ages 5-12 and 12-18 has increased significantly.
Despite the increase in spread, Roberts said the school can fully open in the fall with the mask mandate. According to the new CDH guidance, a student will not have to quarantine if they came in close contact with a person who tested positive as long as they are not experiencing symptoms and both parties were masked.
Students and staff members who are vaccinated will also have different quarantine guidelines, Roberts said, but the district is not requiring that anyone disclose their vaccination status.
“The number one reason for going with the masks is helping with those quarantines,” Roberts said. “Masks, at this point in time, are our best bet in starting this school year in person.”
Trustee Beth Oppenheimer said she hopes Boise’s vaccination rate will improve.
Roberts said the administration’s biggest fear is going back to mobile learning. Boise opened the 2020-2021 school year online, and had to revert to online learning during the holiday season when cases spiked in Idaho.
While the district is reinstating its mask mandate, Roberts assured the trustees that many other mitigation efforts are not returning just yet. She said the district will not be as strict in its social distancing rules, volunteers and visitors will be allowed in the buildings (as long as they are masked) and gathering sizes will not be limited.
What’s the rest of the state planning?
Boise is not the first district in the state to return to a mask requirement. On July 28, trustees in Moscow voted to require masks for at least the first three weeks of the school year.
All of the state’s other largest school districts dropped their mask requirements by the summer. West Ada and Caldwell both dropped their mask requirements in early June. Idaho Falls, Nampa and Pocatello-Chubbuck followed suit in May.
Coeur d’Alene trustees met on Monday night and decided masks will be optional for the upcoming school year.
West Ada’s next board meeting is scheduled for Aug. 10, and there is no agenda available yet. West Ada Superintendent Derek Bub has the authority to make operational decisions to mitigate the spread of the virus, including implementing mask mandates.