School officials will meet on the first day of the new year — as Teton County’s mask mandate expires — to discuss masking requirements for the start of winter classes on Monday.
Teton County School District No. 1 Trustees Kate Mead and Alan Brumstead called the special meeting, which will be held at 5 p.m. Saturday on Webex, after a 446% surge in COVID-19 infections over the holiday break and several parent emails urging the district to require masks.
“Masks are really quite simple,” Mead told the Jackson Hole Daily on Friday.
“My proposal would be to [require masks] until our meeting on Jan. 12, and see how we are then.”
By a 6-to-1 vote at their Nov. 10 meeting, trustees decided not to renew the schools’ mask mandate and instead follow all town, county, and state health orders starting Jan. 1. Mead was the one vote against.
That decision came before the spread of the omicron variant, and before Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell decided not to renew the countywide mandate.
But it’s not clear whether school officials have a different stance on the situation now.
School board Chairman Keith Gingery told the Daily on Friday that he relies heavily on Riddell’s guidance. Since the health officer hasn’t pushed for a new masking requirement in schools, Gingery doesn’t see the need.
“If he felt there was a need, he would issue an order,” the chairman said.
Riddell, for his part, appears rather reluctant to come down firmly on the issue.
“I think that there are reasons to do it and reasons not to do it,” he said. “And it’s hard for me to come down strongly on one side for masks when I’m not doing the same for the rest of the community.”
Without a firm endorsement from Riddell, it is unlikely that the board will strike out on their own by requiring masks, even for the start of the month.
When they were last deciding about mask mandates back in September, trustees had an official recommendation from Riddell to Superintendent Gillian Chapman calling for a universal masking requirement.
But that doesn’t mean Mead isn’t going to push for masks now.
“With all due respect to my fellow board members, I think I’m more cautious with other people’s children than they are,” Mead said.
“I feel that deeply and feel that that’s my job, not to follow the county commission, which doesn’t have hundreds of people in a single building every day, in crowded indoor circumstances.”
Riddell said he was willing to offer public comment if that’s something the board requested. Superintendent Chapman will attend and answer questions, but will not provide a recommendation, according to a statement she sent to the Daily.
“As the superintendent I support their desire to discuss this important, timely issue and appreciate them doing so on the New Year’s Day holiday,” Chapman said.
Because of the holiday, several trustees are traveling and may not attend, Gingery said. He thinks there will be at least four trustees, required for a quorum.
Trustee Bill Scarlett, one of the staunchest opposers of masking on the board, is not expected to attend.