The reimposition of a mask mandate this week in North Idaho will mean little for students in two of its largest school districts, because Coeur d’Alene already requires them and Lakeland has no plans to do so.
However, when students in neighboring Post Falls return to class after Thanksgiving break, masks will once again be required in the face of rising cases of COVID-19.
The bottom line, as clarified Friday afternoon by a spokesperson at the Panhandle Health District: School districts may do as they please.
“This may differ from school to school based off of what the (school) board has decided,” said Katherine Hoyer, public information officer for the district.
Post Falls has chosen to follow that recommendation.
“As before when there was a mask mandate, students will be expected to wear a mask when they return to school,” Superintendent Dena Naccarato said Friday in an email.
That won’t happen until Dec. 2, because Friday was a remote learning day, Monday is a conference day and the following four days comprise Thanksgiving break.
Post Falls has run the gamut this year. Its 5,800 students began the year with masks required and attending in a hybrid model.
Post Falls began the year in the Orange, or moderate, level before moving to Yellow, with full in-person learning on Oct. 12. Masks have been required since the school year began on Sept. 8.
The district moved to full in-person learning on Oct. 12.
During a board meeting on Oct. 23, the mask requirement was deemed unenforceable following the Panhandle Health district’s decision on Oct. 22 to end its mandate.
However, earlier this week the district pivoted back to holding face-to-face classes 4 days a week, with Friday as a remote learning day.
As of Monday, the district had seen 51 positive cases for the entire school year; according to its weekly dashboard posted on Wednesday, it has 18 current cases.
The district reached a peak of 222 people quarantined in late October, but that number has dropped significantly in recent weeks. Ten people were quarantined as of Wednesday, but that does not include quarantines as a result of parent-reported close contact outside of school.
In Coeur d’Alene Public Schools, “the mask mandate doesn’t change anything we are doing, as we continue to require masks to be worn by students, staff and visitors at all times,” said Scott Maben, director of communications.
As in the county at large, cases continue to surge, with CdA schools reporting 40 new cases in the six days ending Thursday.
The district currently has 75 people isolated after testing positive, with 52 staff members and 611 students in quarantine.
It’s unclear how many individuals are currently quarantined in the Lakeland School District, because its school board has prohibited the release of that information.
According to its COVID dashboard, the district of 4,300 has seen 101 positive cases since Aug. 31. Of those, 62 have occurred in the last 4 weeks.
Since the school year began, the district has operated with full in-person learning and masks optional. Barring a vote by the school board, that won’t change, according to Krissy Williams, executive assistant to Superintendent Becky Meyer.
“At this point it doesn’t mean anything at Lakeland,” Williams said.
The school board’s next regular meeting is scheduled for Dec. 8, though it could hold a special meeting at any time.
The board did so on Oct. 23 after a surge in coronavirus cases that caused the health district to move Kootenai County to the “red,” or highest risk category.
However, at that meeting the board voted unanimously to stay the course, with face-to-face learning five days a week and masks “recommended if social distancing cannot be maintained.”
Local journalism is essential.
Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.
Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter
Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.