West Ada trustees agree to keep masks mandatory while indoors

Students in West Ada will be required to wear face coverings while indoors for the remainder of the 2020-2021 school year. But masks will be optional while outdoors and during the summer.

These were among several recommendations made to district trustees during Tuesday night’s board meeting. The full lineup of mask-related decisions was:

  • Students are required to wear face coverings while indoors. Masks are optional while outdoors, before school, after school, during recess, meals and other outdoor activities.
  • Masks will be optional during the summer, this includes during summer school, summer instruction programs and other summer activities.
  • West Ada administration and the trustees will determine mask requirements in a board meeting prior to the next school year.

Trustees also agreed that it is the district’s intent to be mask free for the 2021-2022 school year.

All of the recommendations passed unanimously.

David Binetti gives public testimony during the May 11 meeting of the West Ada Board of Trustees. Nik Streng/Idaho EdNews

Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells said West Ada currently has 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 921 total students in quarantine.

West Ada has a “quarantine release program” which assistant superintendent Bret Heller said allows students to not miss class if they were in contact with someone who tested positive for COVID-19 if both parties were wearing face coverings. The quarantine release program is something trustees, including Rusty Coffelt, brought up when deciding to keep the mask mandate while indoors.

Heller said he does not know how many students who are in quarantine are under that release program, but said the number of kids who are missing class time will go up if the mask mandate were to be overturned.

The meeting room was at full capacity during the May 11 meeting of the West Ada Board of Trustees. Nik Streng/Idaho EdNews

The decision from the board followed an hour-long public testimony, where the board heard from patrons for and against making masks optional.

The evening started with members of Smile West Ada meeting in the parking lot outside of the district office armed with signs. The sea of canary yellow shirts took up most of the board’s meeting room and the adjacent corridor, which was fashioned into a second screening area. Because of the amount of people in attendance, public testimony was limited to one hour total and Board Chair Amy Johnson alternated comments from those for and against making masks optional.

A full list of public testimony sent to the board before Tuesday’s meeting is available here.

David Binetti, a father of two in the district and leader of Smile West Ada, wanted the board to make masks optional for the final two weeks of the school year. Bennetti referred to the final two weeks of the school year as a “dry run” of a mask-optional district.

Binetti argued that the group is not against wearing masks, but wants it to be about choice.

“We do support masks,” Binetti said. “We just don’t believe they are worth the trade-off.”

Multiple students in the district showed up to show support for keeping the masks mandatory, including Rocky Mountain High’s Connor Allen, who took umbrage with Binetti’s remarks.

“Students’ health is not a dry run,” Allen said.

Rebecca Ruzich, who has a kindergartener with a speech impediment, said she ended up pulling her child from school because of the mask mandate.

Elizabeth Lewis, who has two children at Star Middle, said her children have had trouble to make friends while forced to wear masks at school, a sentiment mirrored by parent Stephanie Nevins.

“I see the hurt, the distance from friends,” Nevins said.

Eric Thies, a West Ada teacher and president of the West Ada Education Association, added that the final two weeks of the year can be the most important, with finals and graduation coming up. Thies said removing the mask mandate could lead to students missing end-of-school activities.

“That hundreds of kids will miss out on the end of the school year puts knots in my stomach,” Thies said.

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Nampa School District was scheduled to discuss its mask policy on Wednesday night. That meeting, however, was called off by Chair Mandy Simpson after just 20 minutes when members of the audience would not be quiet.

The meeting can be watched in full here.

Nik Streng

About Nik Streng

Nik Streng graduated with his bachelors degree in creative writing from Pacific University in Forest Grove, Ore., in 2013 and graduated with his master’s in journalism from the University of Oregon. 

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