Students and staff in Coeur d’Alene Public Schools will no longer be required to wear masks as a protective measure against COVID-19, a divided board of directors decided Monday night.
In a 3-2 vote, the board ordered that effective Wednesday, masks will be strongly recommended rather than required at all grade levels. In a separate decision, the board voted 5-0 to also make masks recommended for staff.
The move comes four weeks after the Panhandle Health District lifted its mask mandate and eight days after community members staged protests urging a change.
However, it runs counter to a recommendation by the health district administration to continue requiring masks as part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s strategy to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
During an April 5 meeting, Coeur d’Alene Superintendent Steve Cook offered four choices to deal with the contentious issue of masks.
The first was to continue following Panhandle Health District metrics and require masks when the district is in the Orange, Red and current Yellow stage of operation.
Other options included a stepdown model in which masks are phased out by grade level; the creation of a system that focuses on positivity rate in Kootenai County; and a hybrid of the last two plans.
Instead, the board opted to follow none of those recommendations.
“I feel if we don’t make this type of decision now – COVID is here to stay – I’m not sure that we can ever get to a point where we can unmask our kids,” said Board Chair Jennifer Brumley, who was joined in the majority by trustees Casey Morrisroe and Tambra Pickford.
As staff reported a slight uptick in COVID rates since spring break, Brumley added: “The numbers were low then, the numbers are low now,” she said.
As of Monday, the daily seven-day moving rate in Kootenai County was 11.4 cases per 100,000 people. That’s down from 18.1 in mid-March, and continues a steady decline.
However, the district reported eight current positive cases, including two new cases on Monday.
Brumley also cited complaints from parents whose children are unenthusiastic about wearing masks and who return home with headaches.
“It’s time to make that move,” Brumley said.
The 3-2 vote was identical to a vote April 5, when Morrisroe offered a motion to defer the issue for two weeks and wait on new metrics for a possible relaxation of the mask requirement.
As they did two weeks ago, trustees Lisa May and Rebecca Smith strongly disagreed.
“I must think of the collective,” said May, who calculated, based on recent infection and quarantine rates, that the district’s 11,000 students will miss about 15,000 instructional hours if masking isn’t required.
“We’re going to risk students missing out on some important events,” May said.
Pickford acknowledged that COVID-19 numbers are up slightly but said she still was in favor of going to a mask recommendation only.
Board members also agreed to give the district and building principals some discretion in handling potential COVID-19 hot spots.