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Masks remain optional in Pocatello/Chubbuck schools after new vote

Education

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POCATELLO — Following a failed motion to implement a mask mandate, the Pocatello/Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees passed the 2021-22 school year roadmap, prioritizing in-person learning while keeping masks encouraged, but ultimately optional for students.

More than 200 residents were in attendance for the board’s special meeting Tuesday night at Century High School.

Board chairman Dave Mattson acknowledged the community’s continued fight against COVID-19 but, among other things, said that implementation of mandate enforcement would just not be possible.

“We have looked at this issue from all angles, including the feasibility of our school administrators, teachers and staff shouldering the responsibility of enforcing a mask requirement,” he said.

With one hour dedicated to a public forum, the board called on around 30 speakers. Several of those speakers were teachers, who were particularly concerned about their inability to enforcement of a potential mask mandate.

PCSD25 board call to order
PCSD25 school board calls a special meeting to order Tuesday night at Century High School. | Kalama Hines, EastIdahoNews.com

The decision comes one week after the board voted 3-2 in support of a mask mandate. That decision though, was overturned after a district attorney alerted the board to a potential violation of open meeting law. Tuesday’s meeting remedied the open meeting violation.

RELATED | District 25 school board voids mask mandate, acknowledges ‘perceived’ open meeting law violation

The attempt to pass a mask mandate again on Tuesday night occurred following addresses from staff, three school principals and about an hour of public comments. Trustee Janie Gebhardt made the motion, but unlike the week before, this motion failed 3-2.

Board member Jackie Cranor then introduced a motion to pass the roadmap without a mask mandate. This motion passed 3-2. During her remarks she was critical of those who contacted the board in opposition to the mask mandate.

“To those of you who came her tonight to just simply bash the school board, shame on you, this is a hard job.”

The sentiment was received with boos and calls of “that’s your job.”

Speakers representing the public were largely opposed to the proposed mask mandate.

Speakers representing the other side of the argument were in attendance though, and their comments were received in much the same way Cranor’s were — with boos and jeers.

One teacher who spoke in support of a mask mandate did so more imploring the board for assistance. The board’s request that teachers clean and disinfect their classrooms hourly, she said, puts too much burden on the already overworked teachers. Her opinion was met with boos.

A high school student speaking in support of the mask mandate addressed the claim that masks negatively affect a child’s self-confidence. Masks, he said, make him more comfortable and confident as physical appearances are placed on a more level playing field.

His comments were met with laughter.

Sheryl Brocket, the principal at Century High School, was one of the speakers who spoke about enforcement of the issue. She told the board that unless an enforcement plan came with a mandate it wouldn’t work.

Teachers and staff, she said, have been verbally assaulted by parents who do not agree with some of the measures put in place by the board. She also spoke to instruction given by some parents to students, guiding them to take video recording of interactions between students and staff.

In the end, Cranor said the board’s decision to keep masks optional was the result of hours of scientific research and discussions with administrators at district schools. To learn more click here.

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