COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — In a 3-2 vote Monday evening at the Midtown Meeting Center, the Coeur d’Alene School District board of trustees adopted a COVID mitigation operating plan that recommends but does not require masks to be worn in schools, as reported by KREM 2 news partner the Coeur d'Alene Press.
“I have to ask myself, ‘How do I mandate student masking every day for seven hours when before and after school, those children will be in restaurants, businesses and churches where people are packed together and not been masked,’” Board Chair Jennifer Brumley said. “I'm not aware of any studies that show conclusively that kids wearing masks in school has had any effect on their own morbidity or mortality, or in the hospitalization or death rate in the community around them.”
Brumley suggested the edit to the draft plan adding that masks are strongly recommended.
Trustees Brumley, Tambra Pickford and Casey Morrisroe voted to approve the plan, with Rebecca Smith and Lisa May voting against.
“Tonight, my decision will be based not only on the masking piece, but I don't believe that our opening plan has any of the essential mitigation strategies to keep our students safe,” May said. “We have never seen this rapid increase in cases in our community, not during the entire pandemic.”
Brumley said since the Legislature and governor have not provided them with any guidance, she looked to the community to see what science the community was following to make her decision.
“Sadly, and tragically, even those that are experts and scientists do not agree,” Brumley said. “COVID is a serious illness, but it has not done anything different to our child population than what the flu has.”
She said Washington and Oregon have passed a mask mandate, yet their hospitals are under the same crisis as Idaho’s hospitals.
“Do we consider the maskless policies of Sweden?” Brumley said. “Do we consider the UK that dropped their mask mandate in August?”
May argued that while the UK and Ireland are not requiring their students to mask, they are using mitigation strategies that the school district is not.
“Those countries that we're all discussing that are not masking, they are voluntarily testing their students twice a week, they are recognizing outbreaks and they're dealing with them,” May said. “I believe if we could implement more mitigation strategies, we also could go without masks when our positivity rate again declines to where it was in June and July.”
Superintendent Shon Hocker said he believed the school was doing the best it could to implement mitigation strategies, given the circumstances.
Community members in attendance gave comments both for and against a mask mandate.
Sarah Pierce, a nurse from Coeur d’Alene and parent of children in the school district, said temporary masking is necessary to protect children, parents and teachers, especially while hospitals are operating at or above capacity.
“I've watched healthy young adults die and become critically ill (from COVID),” Pierce said. “The pain, desperation and panic that I've seen in these adults is unimaginable to consider for the children.”
Others argued that masks were not proven effective and can have a negative affect on children physically and mentally.
Dawn Antrim of Coeur d’Alene said the real pandemic was that suicide rates have gone up, particularly in high schools.
“Instead of talking about what is killing your kids, we're talking about how our kids are responsible for overloading the hospitals, putting more pressure on, more guilt, more stress on top of everything else,” Antrim said. “And now we’re here talking about muzzling them up and isolating them again.”
The Coeur d'Alene Press is a KREM 2 news partner. For more from our news partner, click here.