(Lander, WY) – At the September 21st Fremont County School District (FCSD) #1 School Board meeting, members of the Board voted against a proposed mask mandate, in a 4-3 decision.
Further discussions were set to continue at the October 5th meeting, which was originally scheduled as an extra meeting on the calendar to be used only if there were enough agenda items to warrant it.
This meeting was cancelled as of Tuesday, September 28th, according to a message on the district website, and discussions will now commence at the October 19th meeting.
The mandate motion was proposed at the September 21st meeting by Board Clerk Dr. Kathy Hitt, seconded by member Teresa Nirider, with Board Treasurer Michelle Escudero also voting in favor.
Voting against the proposal were Board Chairperson Jared Kail, member Brett Berg, Vice-Chairperson Scott Jensen, and member Taylor Jacobs.
Dr. Hitt stated the following before introducing the motion for those in attendance:
“On behalf of the children of our community, healthcare workers, district staff and parents, I make the following motion, knowing full well that everyone does not agree with what I am proposing. I however, feel it is my moral and ethical obligation and responsibility as a member of this board.
“The motion is that FCSD #1 adopt masking for all students and staff effective immediately. This will be reviewed at the October 5th board meeting and will expire after the October 19th board meeting if relevant data determines it is no longer needed.”
Before the vote and public comments section of the evening occurred, the Board first heard from FCSD #1 School Nurse Brittany Cox.
“I am here to address concerns specifically related to students or staff that have one or more positive COVID case within their home, that under the district’s new close contact protocol are permitted to continue coming to school with a mask,” Cox stated.
A variance request concerning that new protocol, which would allow people back in school who were considered close contacts as long as they wore a mask, was ultimately not endorsed or recommended by Dr. Alexia Harrist, according to Superintendent Dr. Dave Barker during his report earlier in the evening.
Cox went on to state that based on her findings, given the nature of the close contact that occurs between individuals in shared living spaces, transmission levels were higher due to the the fact that sick individuals can shed the virus for 48 hours prior to symptom onset.
“The average household transmission rate is approximately 13%, and those transmissions account for approximately 60% of COVID infections in children,” Cox added. “According to local data for Fremont #1, individuals are three to four times more likely to contract COVID in the home than from an isolated school exposure.”
Her report also revealed that there have been 43 staff and students who have tested positive for COVID, and over 250 students who have been identified as close contacts. Under WDH guidelines, these individuals would be quarantining at-home.
Vice-Chairperson Scott Jensen then asked for specific numbers concerning positive contacts reported at school which have also become COVID positive, with Cox replying that “19 of 40 positives were from home exposure, and six were after a school based exposure.”
When asked if she felt six seemed like a large number, Cox answered “No, but I think that the point is the number of people who test positive from a home exposure is three times that. My concern here tonight is the population of people who are testing positive from home cases.
“We have decent data that says the in-school transmissions are low, while in home-transmissions are high. So we are asking those people with COVID in their homes to follow the WDH and CDC guidelines.”
Before proceeding to the public comment portion of the meeting, Chairperson Kail commented “This issue has become an “us vs them” issue. This is a “we for the kids issue.” Regardless what side we’re on I think it’s important for everyone to understand we’re all here because we care about kids.”
Kail also stated that he contacted House District 08 Representative Bob Nicholas to ask how handle this type of meeting, and that the meeting would follow his guidance.
Based on this guidance, public commenters were given two minutes speak, with only the speaker being allowed to address the Board.
He then added, “We have received two petitions, one from Alison Frost for masking, and another petition submitted by Kayla Horn against masking. By statute, we have to answer both of those petitions, and will be taken care of through vote.”
Before that voting could commence, the public was given the floor to voice their concerns.
Of the 18 speakers, 12 were in favor of the proposed mask mandate, and 6 were against, with medical professionals speaking on behalf of both sides of the matter.
“We’re in the midst of another surge with a more infectious variant,” stated Dr. Shalini Forbis, a pediatrician. “The under 18 age group now accounts for 11 to 25 % of all COVID infections. This county has 54 new cases per day, a fair percentage of those are pediatric.
“This is scary situation,” Forbus continued. “There were fewer exposures last year due to the mask mandate and quarantine procedures. As a member of the medical community, and as a parent of a student in this school district I’m asking you to reinstated those measure during the surge. Although most pediatric COVID patients don’t get very sick some do end up hospitalized.”
The next speaker, who also works in the medical field, was Dr. Broc White.
“I am attending to dispel the illusion that all healthcare providers are in favor of mandates. Ultimately there are numerous studies on both sides. My assertion is that there is not adequate evidence to support mandatory masking for students,” Broc stated.
“What is the social impact on the students? What is the language developmental impact on younger students? Some kids, the only stable social environment they have is at school. What is the mental health impact of masking students?” Broc continued.
After the Board discussion, a roll call vote was conducted, where the motion ultimately failed to pass.
Vice-Chairperson Jensen also suggested the Board “relook at the data in October,” concerning students exposed at home and in school, and it was requested that Nurse Cox continue to collect further data.
The October 5th meeting was originally scheduled as an extra meeting on the calendar, to be conducted if there were enough agenda items to warrant it. This meeting was cancelled after agenda review, and the Board will next meet on October 19th.