Mask mandate approved for GCSD

Logan Dailey/Torrington Telegram

TORRINGTON – The Goshen County School District approved a motion for K-12 mask mandates starting Tuesday, Sept. 2 during a special meeting.

The board approved six of the seven action items on the agenda, and one was voided due to a previous action being passed.

The approved actions include: Revisions to the 2021 Smart Start Plan as presented, District movement from Tier 1A to Tier 1B to the 2021 Smart Start Plan, Proposed K-12 district guidance including indoors face coverings for all individuals in GCSD facilities in correlation with the Wyoming Department of Health and Goshen County Public Health weekly statistics, requiring face coverings for all individuals being transported in any GCSD No. 1 vehicle, medical documentation regarding face covering exemptions for students, and religious documentation regarding face covering exemptions for students.

Community members packed into the Torrington High School auditorium to express their thoughts on the board’s proposal and hear the decisions. All board members were in the auditorium except for Trustee Dylan Hager who attended via Zoom.

The board opened the meeting with three hours of public comment consisting of 48 members of the public. Chairman Mark Jespersen advised every one of the five-minute time limit for each person as well as to be respectful and refrain from repetitive comments. The majority of the speakers were parents, grandparents, and community members who opposed a mandate on masks.

A concern for many of the members was they did not believe the board members were representing the community who elected them. Ashley Posten told the board it is up to them to carry out the views of the public.

“You are responsible to be our voice and to represent us,” Posten said. “Please do not cover our children’s beautiful faces.”

Julie Garza also felt the community was not being represented properly especially because the parents were not surveyed on the issue prior to the event.

“I ask you look at the parents and see what they want,” Garza said.

Kyle Kilty also asked the board to table the discussion and send out a survey to parents in order to gauge their feelings on the matter.

“This situation in particular seems to be very polarized and very heated,” Kilty said.

Some parents claimed the masks were ineffective and even damaging to their children physically and psychologically. Andrielle Walsh said masks decrease children’s oxygen levels.

“It really is child abuse,” Walsh said.

Linda Jones agreed and said there is more known about the virus this year than in 2020. Jones cited an article from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health about the health effects of masks.

“We know more [now] than when this all started,” Jones said.

Heather Arnusch said along with the ineffectiveness of masks, children also lose the ability to read facial expressions.

“Masks dehumanize us and serve as a constant reminder that we should be afraid,” Arnusch said. Wyoming District 3 State Senator Cheri Steinmetz addressed the board and read the preamble of the constitution. Steinmetz said she and the board are supposed to govern by the consent of the governed. Steinmetz mentioned there are not mandates at the state or county level so there is no right for the school board to force it.

“We have made it abundantly clear as a state legislature that the right lies with the parent,” Steinmetz said.

A few community members spoke in favor of masks including Heidi Edmunds, who called for everyone to pursue a greater understanding and to challenge each other. Edmunds argued masks are still effective.

“There is good reason to consider things that are not 100% effective,” Edmunds said.

Andrew Patrick, who is the son of Trustee Katherine Patrick, told the board to focus on facts and responsibilities. Patrick said vaccines are the most effective weapon against COVID but not kids under 12 cannot get it yet.

“Fortunately, the CDC gave us a second weapon and that is masks,” Patrick said.

Patrick believes a mask mandate helps to provide the best education for students.

Amy Lozano also spoke to the board in favor of the mask mandate. Lozano said to make the choice to keep the kids safe by mandating masks.

After the three hours of public comment and two recesses, the board moved to the action items as the crowd began to dwindle.

The first item was for the board to consider approval of the revised changes to the Smart Start Plan. Superintendent Kramer ran through the major changes in the plans including students being required to wear a mask in the nurse’s office when they feel sick to all tiers in the plan. Kramer also said temperature screening will be implemented once again just for athletes and in the future could be applied to all students.

“There is not an area in which we would screen the entire student body,” Kramer said. “That will something possibly that could be implemented in the future with the right purchase of equipment.”     

The board approved the revisions 7-2.

The next item was to consider the approval of moving from Tier 1A to Tier 1B in the Smart Start Plan. Trustee Michael Sussex asked about the concessions about quarantining as it pertains to the plan. Kramer explained the types of quarantine situations which have been in place since August of 2020 and clarified it is not in the Smart Start Plan.

After another summary of the changes from 1A to 1B, the board approved the change 6-3.

The board then discussed the approval for masks to be required for all students and staff K-12. Sussex asked what the process was for close contacts. Kramer explained after the school gets a call from the parent, they work with the county for contact tracing using attendance sheets and video footage for lunchtime. Trustee Patrick said there needs to be urgency to the mandate because she is concerned for the community.

“I have never in my lifetime seen a virus that filled ICUs the way COVID-19 has,” Patrick said.

Trustee Taylor Schmick said the board should look into tabling the discussion until they can hear from the parents. Trustee Kerry Bullington said tabling was not an option.

“With what we have seen in less than two weeks, tabling I do not believe is an option,” Bullington said

The board made a second motion to table the discussion, but it failed 5-4.

The board then proceeded to the original motion and used a roll call to decide the vote. The motion was approved 5-4.

The next item was overruled due to the passing of item G, so the board moved on to consider the approval for facemasks on school transportation. Kramer said it does not relate to the mandate which was passed for the schools. The board approved the motion 5-4.

The last two items were to discuss the medical and religious exemption forms for mask mandates. The exemptions were originally passed with the mask mandates, but the board had to approve the drafts for the forms. The medical exemption form passed 6-3 while the religious exemption form passed 5-4.

The new mandates were initiated on Tuesday, Sept. 7.

Logan Dailey/Torrington Telegram

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