Virus Outbreak (copy)

The Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 Board of Trustees voted 3-2 during a meeting on Tuesday evening to reinstate a mask mandate in the district’s schools.

The mask mandate will go into effect on Monday as part of the district’s roadmap for the current school year, which the board approved on Tuesday after amending it to include a requirement that school attendees wear masks.

The mandate allows for medical exemptions, but there is no opt-out option for those who do not have a documented health issue that would prevent them from being able to wear a face covering. The measure will go into place next week to allow time for families to prepare for the change, the district said.

The school board’s decision comes as the number of COVID-19 cases in Bannock County and Southeast Idaho reaches an all-time high amid low vaccination rates and the rampant spread of the highly contagious delta variant.

The most recent data released by District 25 on Friday shows that there are 97 students and 26 school staff members actively infected with the virus. Only one school in the district, Tyhee Elementary School, is not reporting any active COVID-19 cases, according to the data. 

While a handful of people came to Tuesday’s meeting at Century High School to speak in opposition to and in support of a mask mandate in schools, it was the mother of a District 25 third-grader who seemed to convince some of the board members to rethink the optional mask policy the board adopted just over a month ago on Aug. 19.

The mother told the board her daughter has a progressive incurable lung disease and that because of her daughter’s short life expectancy she gets to have a wish granted by the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Her daughter could “go anywhere, meet anyone or do anything,” the woman said, but she simply wants to be able to go to school safely.

“She and I were discussing her options last week. ... My daughter thought for a few moments and then she asked me, ‘Do you think for my wish we could have everyone in my class wear a mask so I can go back to school?’” the woman said, adding that her daughter said, “That’s just the thing that I want most.”

“I am asking for your help in creating a safe learning environment where my daughter and other vulnerable children can be educated with their peers,” she said to the board.

The mother’s comments appeared to evoke emotion from the board's vice chairperson Jackie Cranor, who said after listening to the woman that she thought, “How sad it is that her daughter would just like to go to school in a classroom where they would wear masks so she could go and feel safe.”

“In our mission statement, we said that we have to consider the needs of all children, so we’re really in a dilemma. It puts me in a dilemma,” Cranor said. “I really do want to see something that will keep all of our kids safe.”

The board weighed a mask mandate with an opt-out option but ultimately voted to adopt a mask mandate without that provision.

Board Chairperson Dave Mattson and board member Jim Facer voted against the mandate. Cranor and board members Janie Gebhardt and Paul Vitale voted in favor of the measure.