TORRINGTON – The Goshen County School District Board voted to rescind the mask mandate in the district on Thursday.
The decision came almost two months after the policy was initially put into place on Sept. 2.
The special meeting started with the swearing in of new trustee Sarah Chaires to the board.
For public comment, the board required speakers to indicate if they were for or against rescinding the mandate prior to the start of the meeting. The board allotted 90 minutes for public comment which was split 45 minutes for both sides.
Six members of the public spoke in favor of rescinding the mask mandate.
Taylor Anderson said as a pediatric nurse she believes masks should be worn in hospitals but not in schools.
“This is not a place to require a mask. Our kids get sick absolutely,” Anderson said. “We see sick kids everyday, but guess what? They’re going to get sick, they’re going to recover. they’re going move forward.”
Anderson added it should be up to the parents to make health decisions for their children.
Rod Wagner said he has opposed the mask mandate at several meetings, and believes masks represent a fear tactic from the government. Wagner also referenced Patrick Henry’s quote of “give me liberty or give me death.”
“I’m here to ask you for liberty for our kids and stand up for the American way,” Wagner said.
Karen Posten said the board did not listen to the public during the last special meeting for a mask mandate, and they should remember the golden rule to treat others as you would want to be treated.
“Please consider, is this how you would like to be treated,” Posten said. “Let’s also talk about what will happen when a mandate is passed that goes against your beliefs. One that effects you personally in a way that you don’t believe. It will happen.”
John Cummings related the community divisiveness on mask mandates to marxism and socialism.
“They divide and that’s just exactly what this is,” Cummings said. “Divide anyway you can. Race, religion, sex. Whatever.”
Cummings also said Americans in the past fought for freedom and not for safety.
“If you want to be safe buy your own little island or something,” Cummings said.
Bob Peterson addressed the board about the modified rules from the original public comment time. Peterson believed splitting the comment time based on which side people were on made it seem as though the community was split evenly on the decision, and was displeased with having to state which side he was on before speaking.
“You are taking away free speech when I have to come up and state what side I’m going to be on. No one should have to do that just to speak,” Peterson said.
Rebecca Cochran rounded out the speakers in favor of rescinding the policy. Cochran said the board did not listen to everything the public presented to them before making the decision for a mask mandate.
“If you’re not going to listen to science, and data, and emotion, and the law, what is left to make a decision on,” Cochran asked. “I think it’s fear.”
On the other side of the argument, Marci Shaver said it was ironic the board was contemplating the decision the week of Halloween when kids go out to the community to get candy. Shaver also said masks are the best way to fight against the virus which has made a historic impact on the nation.
“We are battling the worst pandemic since 1918. We are fighting a brand new disease which can be slowed or stopped by the wearing of masks,” Shaver said.
Rick Breedlove related the board’s current decision to decisions he had to make when working for Child Protective Services.
“The matter of danger was always the dividing line,” Breedlove said.
Now the question of children being in danger is divided on if there is more harm in the virus or the masks.
Andrew Patrick told the board they made the decision to mandate masks at the best time since cases in the nation, and especially in Goshen County, started to rise. Patrick also talked about integrity and what it means to him.
“Integrity means doing the right thing regardless of the consequences,” Patrick said.
Patrick added integrity becomes easier to act the more it is done.
Rob Brnham was the last member of the public to comment on the issue. Branham compared the mask mandate decision to a decision which was made when he was on the board.
“While I was on this board we passed the drug testing law. We had public forums around the county, and we were called every name in the book,” Branham said. “We were doing the right thing for the kids.”
After public comment, the board discussed the motion to rescind the policy.
Trustee Kerry Bullington said she was unsure why they were having the meeting and stated Goshen County has the fifth highest cases per 100,000.
“Why would we talk about rescinding a mask mandate now? I don’t understand,” Bullington said.
Chairman Zach Miller, who initially voted to approve the policy, said a school mandate doesn’t work as well if it is the only place in the community to require masks.
“If there was a city or a county mask mandate I believe my decision this evening would change,” Miller said.
The chairman also added his personal observations from the past week have influenced his decision.
Superintendent Ryan Kramer asked the board when they would want to enact the rescinding of the mandate if approved to which they voted for Monday, Nov. 1 to allow enough time to enact the new quarantine protocol.
Miller along with Trustees Taylor Schmick, Michael Sussex, Dylan Hager, Matt Cushman, and Chaires voted yes. Bullington, Katherine Patrick, and Carlos Saucedo voted no.
The board also approved to rescind the mask mandate on all school district transportation 5-4. Schmick, Sussex, Hager, Cushman, and Chaires voted yes. Miller, Bullington, Patrick, and Saucedo voted no.
After the meeting, Miller said the public’s opinion is something the board takes in to account when making decisions.
“I think public input is always something we desire and I’m glad we had a fair number of individuals present on both sides of this issue,” Miller said.
Along with the lack of a community mask mandate, Miller added the quarantine protocol and observations he made from some of the schools in the district of poor compliance factored into his decision.
In terms of the rapid increase of cases in the county, Miller acknowledged the prison is often a major factor in the big spike in cases.
Miller said the next steps will be to see how the community responds to the decision and continue to monitor the cases in the county.
“If we see schools needing to close or we see classrooms becoming ill… that may make us look differently,” Miller said. “It’s a continuing evolving process and I really look towards Mr. Kramer’s guidance on what’s needed from the board in order to support operating safe schools.”