Schools will review mask requirement after first two weeks

The school board has decided to continue with its COVID-19 mitigation plan that requires students, staff and visitors to wear face masks in the buildings, though the policy will be reviewed again two weeks after classes begin.

The plan approved at the board meeting Monday evening calls for review of the masking protocols on a monthly basis.

Classes start Aug. 31. The next school board meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13.

"Masks will be required for students, staff and guests while in school or at school events," the plan now reads. "During outdoor school activities masks are required if unable to social distance," based upon the latest guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control, community and school active case counts, and vaccination rates, according to the school district's COVID plan.

Borough officials reported 11 new COVID-19 cases in Wrangell on Monday and Tuesday, bringing to 22 the total number of new cases in the past two weeks.

Under the school district policy, visitors and volunteers will be required to wear masks while working with staff or students.

Face masks are required of all students on school buses, according to federal law.

"We thought that, for at least the first two weeks as we are still watching students return from travel as school starts, that masking guidelines would be one thing that we could establish while looking at our mitigation in other areas," Schools Superintendent Bill Burr said at Monday's board meeting.

"We are trying to make significant changes in the actual school building ... getting us more of a normalized classroom experience for our students," Burr said.

The masking requirement was part of the school district policy adopted in June. In preparation for reviewing that policy, the school district conducted a community-wide survey earlier this month, asking parents, students and community members for their opinions on masking and other school operations.

The survey results, which were presented at Monday's board meeting, showed that out of 79 responses, 45 were either "somewhat" or "extremely" displeased with the mask policy; 21 people were pleased with the requirement; and the rest had no opinion.

Counting survey responses from only parents, 24 out of 45 said they felt mask-wearing should be a choice instead of a mandate.

A student survey, completed by 15 high school students, also showed that half of the respondents felt that masks should be optional. The majority said last year's mitigation practices affected their education.

In addition to reviewing the survey results, the school board received several letters from community members in opposition to keeping the mask mandate in place.

Penny Allen wrote that masks, and vaccinations, should be optional and the decisions left up to students, parents and staff.

Bruce Smith wrote that he doubted the effectiveness of masks at preventing COVID-19 infections.

The board also received a petition signed by 26 community members, stating that masking should be optional.

Aaron Angerman, school board president, said a lot could change in a month before the board takes a another look at the COVID plan at its Sept. 13 meeting, noting that the district can always change its policy.

"I know we have a very divided community as far as folks who support masks, folks who don't want masks," board member Laura Ballou said. "The most important thing for me, as a board member, is I want the kids in school. I want to do everything I possibly can to ensure we keep the kids in school, that they get back to as much normalcy as possible."


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