West Ada to stop contact tracing, keep mask mandate

The West Ada School District will no longer contact trace coronavirus cases while there is an active mask mandate in the district, as there is now.

The district’s board voted Wednesday night to make the change, citing increased demand on school staff charged with contact tracing and communicating with parents when children are exposed to COVID-19. But the board opted to extend an existing requirement that staff, students and visitors wear masks in classrooms as hospitals across the state continue rationing care amid a surge in COVID-19 patients.

In lieu of contact tracing, the district will notify parents if their student was in a classroom with someone who tested positive. Parents will be advised to monitor for symptoms but keep their kids in class.

Halting contact tracing could alleviate the strain placed on staff but could also leave the district will less data to base future decisions on, Health Service Supervisor Tracey Garner told the board.

With a high volume of cases, collecting that data has become heavily burdensome, said Superintendent Derek Bub.

“Administrators are chasing around contact tracing all day. Nurses are chasing around contact tracing,” Bub said. “And what’s happening is they are staying till 11 or 12 o’clock at night to get their other work done.”

Trustee Rusty Coffelt was on the losing end of a 4-1 vote for the protocol shift and said he wouldn’t support any decision that didn’t “move in the direction” of making masks optional.

The vote capped nearly four hours of debate, discussion and presentations from public health experts that stretched close to 11 p.m. It saw Bub push for mask mandates to be made on a school-by-school basis, Coffelt urge walking back mask requirements altogether and around a dozen supporters of Board Chair Amy Johnson donning orange shirts that read “Zero Tolerance for Bullying,” a rebuke of a recall effort against her.

The board plans to reevaluate its mask policy when one of the following criteria is met:

  • St. Alphonsus and St. Luke’s, the Treasure Valley’s biggest hospital systems, exit crisis standards of care, a practice of health care rationing.
  • A coronavirus vaccine is approved for use in children aged five to 11. Currently, vaccines are only OK’d for children 12 and older. The Food and Drug Administration will weigh approving the Pfizer-BioNTech jab for younger children Oct. 26, NPR reported.
  • A moderate level of community coronavirus spread is reached in Ada County, by Centers for Disease Control standards.

This marks the first time this school year the board has endorsed a mask mandate for all students. The district’s existing mask mandate was ordered by Bub and was twice extended for two week stretches ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.

The district currently has 51 active cases, a rate of 11.9 per 100,000 staff and students, according to the district’s coronavirus dashboard.

Click here to see what other schools are requiring, and to tell us what’s happening in your school. 

Blake Jones

Blake Jones

Reporter Blake Jones covers the politics and policy of Idaho's K-12 public school system. He's a lifelong Idahoan, and holds degrees in Creative Writing and Political Economy from the College of Idaho. Follow Blake on Twitter @jonesblakej. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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