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The great divide: CDA School District board Trustees debate mask mandate

In a special meeting of the school board Monday, parents and community members disagreed over whether staff and students should be required to wear masks indoors
Credit: HANNAH NEFF/Press
crowd of parents, students and community members, some carrying signs stating their view on mask mandating, gathered outside the Midtown Center Meeting Room to attend the special meeting of the Coeur d’Alene School District Board of Trustees on Monday evening.

COEUR D'ALENE, Idaho — Coeur d’Alene School District board trustees, parents and community members were split over whether masks should be mandated as part of the school’s reopening plan, as reported by our news partners at the CDA Press.

The special board meeting of the Coeur d’Alene School District on Monday evening was well attended by parents and community members with opposing views, who held signs indicating their position on masks. Disagreements were exchanged as attendees entered the building, speakers received boos and cheers, and at one point a man was willingly escorted out after disrupting the meeting by verbalizing his opinion after being given a warning.

Discussion centered on whether the approved draft reopening plan should be modified because of a rise in COVID-19 cases and the new Delta variant.

Board chair Jennifer Brumley, Trustee Tambra Pickford and Trustee Casey Morrisroe all spoke against mandating masks, but recommended wearing masks as personal choice. Trustee Lisa May advocated for a universal mask policy, and Trustee Rebecca Smith asked for more middle ground on the matter.

Brumley said the middle ground is following mask-wearing recommendations.

“Nobody is mandating masks but that’s what we’re being asked to do,” Brumley said. “I am not at a place that I think that is what’s best for kids.”

Dr. Christine Hahn, medical director of the Idaho Division of Public Health, spoke with the board over Zoom and gave them her recommendations for reopening, including vaccinations, social distancing and masking because of the rapid rise of cases the past month.

Nichole Piekarski, director of school health services, and Dr. Shon Hocker, superintendent, shared their concerns on overcrowding at Kootenai Health caused by a rise of COVID-19 patients.

Piekarski said Kootenai Health currently has 80 COVID inpatients with 32 ICU patients, but only 26 ICU beds.

“Kootenai Health asked we share with you: ‘Please respect the Delta variant. It is different,’” Piekarski said. “And Kootenai Health cannot care for your children. They do not have 27 pediatric ICU beds. Students requiring hospitalization will need to be sent to Spokane. And when Spokane is full, they will be sent to Boise and they will be sent to Seattle and anywhere else they can get your children.”

Hocker said he encourages following the experts’ advice and voiced concern over issues that may arise from a lack of staff, or staff being out with COVID-19.

“If your hospital is already at overcapacity, and then it's still three weeks before school starts, I think that unknown is what I want to try to be prepared for,” Hocker said. “I don't believe that we should do nothing, and then just react to whatever might be because I think that reaction could be the fact that by then we have to close down a school or a whole district and have kids go online for a few weeks full time.”

Hocker said the board should make a decision on the matter soon.

“With the fact that there is no agency that is mandating masks that is going to tell this board to mandate masks that it is not my job to mandate that,” Brumley said. “I don't feel as a school board member that I get to tell parents that they have to mask their children with what I know about the current circumstances and what's happening.”

May argued that the best chance of keeping students safe and in school is having some basic mitigation strategies.

“Universal masking is our No. 1 strategy,” May said. “If we can wear a mask for one month, and get over that hump, like Dr. Hocker shared, I'm willing to make that sacrifice for our students.”