School masks

Hal Wheeler puts a mask on his son, Henry, at Jackson Elementary School before sending him inside for the first day of kindergarten last fall.

Teachers and students will finish the school year the same way they started it, wearing masks.

Though State Health Officer Dr. Alexia Harrist is allowing her statewide mask mandate for schools to expire Monday, she approved a local order that will be in place from June 1 to 11 for public and private schools in Teton County. Teton District Health Officer Dr. Travis Riddell asked for the county order to cover the rest of the school year, which goes later in Teton County public schools than in many other parts of Wyoming.

“Since most Teton County students are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine or fully vaccinated, we want to continue to ensure their safety during in-person learning,” Riddell said in a statement. “Wearing a mask is still the first line of defense against COVID-19 for most children in the school setting.”

The switch from a state order to a county order won’t change anything for students. Masks have been mandated all school year, so kids and teachers are used to face coverings at this point.

Some parents, on the other hand, are ready for the mandate to be lifted. Others fell on the opposite side, asking the board to keep the mandate in place, but the district has little say over what public health officials require. Teton County School District No. 1 communications director Charlotte Reynolds told the News&Guide that though the district didn’t have any sway in the decision, it would follow the edict.

“Under the current conditions, recognizing that students aren’t fully vaccinated, I understand why that decision was made,” Reynolds said.

School board Chair Keith Gingery agreed.

“The school board’s position has been since the beginning of the COVID outbreak is that we comply with the orders that are handed down whether they’re state or county,” he said.

Keeping masks in place does maintain an exemption to quarantine orders that the Wyoming Department of Health instated earlier in the pandemic. At the beginning of the school year, quarantines were sending entire classrooms home for two weeks. With low transmission rates in schools, health officials said if an exposure happened in school, where mask wearing was constant, kids didn’t need to automatically quarantine.

Overall, the county rule will govern just two more weeks of the year, one that has been topsy-turvy for educators and students alike.

“We’ve gotten through the craziest school year I think any of us can recall. We’ve got just these last couple of weeks,” Reynolds said. “If this is what our public health officials feel is appropriate in the school setting, the district will support that direction.”

Contact Tom Hallberg at 732-7079 or thallberg@jhnewsandguide.com.

Tom Hallberg covers a little bit of everything, from skiing to long-form feature stories. A Teton Valley, Idaho, transplant by way of Portland and Bend, Oregon, he spends his time outside work writing fiction, splitboarding and climbing.

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