With Parents Divided, Teton County School Board Punts on Mask Decision

Parents on both sides of the face covering debate have given passionate public testimony as Teton County's first day of school approaches.
School districts across the country have been grappling with whether or not to require masks indoors as COVID-19 cases rise yet again. (David Tadevosian/Shutterstock)

by | Aug 13, 2021 | Education

 

The first day of school is less than three weeks away in Teton County. But like many other school boards across the country, the Teton County Board of Trustees is putting off making a consequential decision: whether or not to require masks in school facilities as the Delta variant of COVID-19 spreads across Wyoming. 

At a school board meeting Wednesday night, Teton County School District Superintendent Gillian Chapman unveiled a “Smart Start” program, which outlines how county schools plan to mitigate coronavirus spread through vaccine recommendations, hygiene measures and social distancing when possible. But a decision on face coverings likely won’t be made for another few weeks, and the county won’t get help from the state either, as Gov. Mark Gordon has already said he’s leaving it up to local boards to decide.

No matter what decision is made, at least one group of people is going to be angry. Nine members of the public spoke about why they oppose mask mandates on Wednesday.

“My kids cried almost every day to go to school because they had to wear those masks,” said Jamie Young, a parent from Moran. “I understand this is a difficult time, but the masks need to go or we will be pulling all our kids out of that school and we will be homeschooling.”

And though only two people spoke up in favor of mask requirements, written testimony submitted to the board was more balanced. Libby Wood teaches fifth grade at Munger Mountain Elementary School, and she argued that most students and adults in her classroom abided by the mandates without any issues.

“The masking is cheap. It’s easy,” Wood said. “And I truly believe it’s a common sense way to handle an illness that is really easy to catch.” 

74% of Teton County residents are fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by The New York Times, well above the state average. But there have still been reports of some breakthrough infections and local health officials have raised the community risk level from “normal” to “low” to “moderate” over the past few weeks. That’s part of why School Board Chair Kieth Gingery wants to potentially wait until Aug. 25 to make a final decision on masks. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends universal indoor masking at all K-12 schools across the country this year. Time will tell if Teton County follows suit.

Listen above for more. 

 

 

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About Will Walkey

Will is KHOL's first full-time reporter and producer. Originally from Tacoma, Washington, he recently graduated from Columbia University with a Master's Degree in journalism. He likes to read and write about housing, local politics, and history, and spends most of his free time fishing or biking. He's excited to be living in Wyoming, and looks forward to honing in on his unique radio voice by highlighting the locals that make Jackson special. Contact Will with tips at will@jhcr.org, and follow him on Twitter at @WillWalkey.

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