East Grand to begin school year with mask requirement
The East Grand School District will start the school year mandating masks for all staff and students.
After more than three hours of discussion, including nearly two hours of public comments, the board voted 3-2 to make masking mandatory in school buildings with board members Trevor Corbin and Chris Raines dissenting.
More than 70 people attended the school board meeting in Middle Park High School’s auditorium, along with a number of online attendees, and 46 people expressed their feelings on a mask requirement with a diverse range of opinions.
On Tuesday night, Grand County Public Health Director Abbie Baker explained that her department would not be mandating masks or other health measures for the schools. Instead, she outlined the department’s strong guidance and left the decision up to the school board.
Baker said that the health department is required to isolate and quarantine COVID-19 cases, but a number of factors determine how and when those exposed to a COVID case are quarantined.
For example, there is no need to quarantine a vaccinated person who has been exposed to someone with COVID-19, Baker said. If universal masking is implemented or active serial testing takes place weekly, close contacts also will not need to quarantine from a typical classroom exposure, she continued.
Low community transmission or high vaccination rates could affect how the department handles quarantine orders, but Grand County currently has too many COVID cases and too few people vaccinated to trigger those measures.
According to Baker, East Grand was left with three options — implement universal masking, begin serial testing or require nothing and risk additional quarantines.
The West Grand School District, which started classes this week, opted to not mandate masking or testing. Baker said this means that if a COVID-19 case is identified in a class, more students will likely have to quarantine.
The East Grand board discussed serial testing extensively, saying it could protect students from quarantines without requiring them to wear masks, but that would come with a number of challenges.
Implementing and reporting weekly testing for at least 70% of the student body would be an administrative burden, and the schools would need at least 70% of parents to consent to the testing.
The state has a program that could offer free serial testing and the staffing to administer the data, but school staff was skeptical the program would come together in time for the start of the school year on Monday and worried that the rural district would not be prioritized for the program.
School administrators did agree to further pursue that avenue, starting with finding out if enough parents would consent to weekly testing.
In order to open the schools on Monday, however, a more immediate decision had to be made. Board members stressed that the decision to require masks was difficult and not one made lightly.
Some on the board felt that masking should be a personal choice. Others pointed out that quarantining would be more likely without universal masking. Eventually, board members Shaul Hagen, Angel Higginbotham and Justin McGuan voted in favor of the mask requirement.
Higginbotham emphasized that the masking discussion would be ongoing. The board mentioned multiple times that the decision would be revisited and re-evaluated on a regular basis.
Masks will be required in all school buildings regardless of vaccination status. School administrators said they would begin working out the requirements for masking during various circumstances, like during outdoor activities and sports.
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The Grand County Sheriff’s Office fielded 177 calls from Jan. 9-15 while dispatchers answered 487 calls for all first-responder agencies in the county.