Cody School Board Approves Request to Remove Masks in Class
Written by Andrew-Rossi on April 21, 2021
The Park County School District #6 Board of Trustees applaud the strength of staff and students but agree it’s time to ask for maskless classrooms in Cody.
During a routine meeting of the Board of Trustees, there was anticipation in the board room. This stemmed from two items on the board’s agenda: the survey results and a vote on Cody schools requesting a variance from the Wyoming Department of Health.
When the state extended the remaining public health orders on April 16, there were no additional amendments lessening restrictions. Currently, masks and physical distancing are required at all times in Wyoming’s schools.
As COVID-19 cases decrease in the district and the county, the board began exploring the option of requesting a variance from the state. That variance would allow students and staff to remove their masks in classrooms and on school campuses.
Initial results were clear, with over 75% of the community in favor of the Cody school board asking the state to let classes go maskless.
During the April 20 board meeting, Superintendent Peg Monteith shared the final results of the district’s survey. 71% of school staff and 78% of Cody community members supported the variance request.
Superintendent Monteith also shared that there hasn’t been a single COVID-19 case in the district, amongst students and staff, for the past six weeks.
The board praised the fortitude of Cody’s students, who have been wearing masks for several hours a day for several months. It’s a struggle the rest of the nation hasn’t endured and doesn’t understand.
Chairperson Brandi Nelson made a point to share how fortunate Cody has been to continue with classes and activities in the district. But the price of staying in class is being forced to keep masks on constantly.
“Nobody understands that our kids and teachers have been wearing their masks for eight hours a day, ” Nelson said.
There was also discussion on the safety of removing masks with just 28 days left in the 2020-2021 school year. With so little time left, why not see things through to the end?
That was the perspective raised by the board’s student advisor, Paige Martinez. The senior said she doesn’t want end-of-the-year events like prom and graduation potentially jeopardized by an increase in COVID cases.
The board appreciated Martinez’s perspective as she one of the many students “enduring” masks in classes. They also reassured her and the community that the yet-to-be-drafted variance would only apply to classrooms and school buildings.
If the variance is granted, masks will still be required as large events like graduation unless the state says otherwise. Furthermore, students and teachers are still encouraged to wear masks in school. It will be a personal choice rather than a requirement.
The discussion ended, the agenda progressed, and finally, the time came for a vote – and the result was unanimous.
The Park County School District #6 Board of Trustees voted unanimously to approach Park County Public Health to draft and submit a variance to the Wyoming Department of Health. There was no dissension or hesitation from any board member.
While an important vote, it doesn’t mean Cody schools are no longer required to wear masks. The variance is currently being drafted by Park County Public Health Officer Dr. Aaron Billin.
Once completed, Dr. Billin will send the variance to the Wyoming Department of Health. It will undergo review and approval by the department and State Health Officer Alexia Harrist.
It could easily be a week or more before the variance is written, submitted, and approved – if it is approved at all.
The entire board agreed on the necessity of the mask mandate during the darkest days of the pandemic. They also applaud the district and community for their courage and strength. But now, in their opinion, the community is safe enough for students to go without masks once again.