District votes 5-2 in favor of shift to optional masking for all grade levels

The board considered future absentee rates related and unrelated to COVID in their decision


By Gabby Delpleash

The board meets virtually to review protocols requiring barrier face masks.

Gabby Delpleash, Mill Valley News editor-in-chief

It’s official: all USD 232 buildings, early childhood to high school, will have optional masking masking made effective on Tuesday, Feb. 22, 2022. 

After board members met virtually at a special meeting Friday, Feb. 18, the district used its recent student absentee rates related to COVID-19 to follow the Johnson County Board of County Commissioners in their decision to cancel the school mask mandate on Thursday, Feb. 17.

Revoking the previous threshold for a return to full masking, student absentee rates relating to COVID-19 must, now, not exceed 5%. In the event that this threshold is met or exceeded by an individual building, that building will return to full masking until the absentee rate is under 5% for one consecutive week.

Board members actively debated over whether keeping this threshold was necessary for the universal forfeiture of face masks. Board member Ashley Spaulding supported keeping a threshold in place, considering patrons who still have concerns about unmasking their kids.

“The vast majority of our patrons all want the same thing as far as not wanting their kids masked but we do still have patrons who have concerns about not masking and who are not happy with the Board of County Commissioners’ decision,” Spaulding said. “I think this is a big compromise that people now have a choice to send their kids to school with a mask or not for the most part.

These thresholds are just a mitigation procedure that we will have in place should something really bad go wrong.

— Board member Ashley Spaulding

Board president Danielle Heikes was outspoken in her support for the new health mandate citing the new threshold’s flexibility for accommodating all families.

“These thresholds are just a mitigation procedure that we will have in place should something really bad go wrong,” Heikes said. “I think we owe it to those patrons who still have concerns.”

Current district data indicates that all USD 232 buildings have met the 2% threshold for two consecutive weeks. For the week of Feb. 14, the district-wide percentage of total isolations and recommended quarantines was 0.37% with no school-related exposures reported since the week of Jan. 15.

Board members Bill Fletcher and Stephanie Makalous advocated to do away with keeping a threshold stating that the criteria is irrelevant if the Board is required by law to follow the actions of the Board of County Commissioners.

“The Board of County Commissioners took masks off,” Fletcher said. “They’re going to come back in and mandate this if things get bad again and we don’t want to break the law or lose our accreditation. What are we setting numbers for? It’s irrelevant.”

Board member Rick Amos reminded members that the Board has home rule power thus allowing them to make some decisions separate from the authority of the state.

Per federal regulations, face masks will still be required of students and staff on district transportation vehicles as well as at school after a student has completed five days of their recommended quarantine period and wishes to return to school for the remaining five days of their quarantine.The most up-to-date information about COVID-19 in the district can be found on the Board of Education’s website.

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