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Boise School District Will Require Masks In Schools

The Exterior of Boise High School
Josh Lindgren

Boise School District trustees Tuesday unanimously approved a new reopening plan requiring students and staff to wear masks indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

The updated district plan for this school year will rely on masks to protect a largely unvaccinated student population from the more contagious delta strain of COVID-19 and keep schools open.

“It's really difficult for students to quarantine and be out of class,” said Boise Deputy Superintendent Lisa Roberts, who presented the plan to trustees for approval.

“For teachers to try and keep track of in-class with the students that are out of class - or just even trying to keep enough staff with substitutes in our buildings. We feel like the masks are our absolute best bet for starting the school year in person, five days a week,” she said.

Central District Health signed off on the district’s plan to only send students into quarantine for a positive test, or if they were not wearing a mask when exposed to someone who tested positive. Becoming symptomatic following exposure, masked or not, would also require quarantine.

Many trustees said they didn’t want or expect to have to again require masks in schools, but increased community transmission of the more contagious delta strain forced this decision.

District medical advisor and CEO of Primary Health Medical Group Dr. David Peterman told Roberts that new cases among 5-12 year-olds have doubled in recent weeks, and tripled among 13-18 year-olds. Administrators will meet with advisors from all three area medical systems at least every two weeks, as they did last year.

“We know from last school year that face masks work to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Boise School Board President Dave Wagers. “We’re disappointed that we have been forced to take what feels like a step backwards, but our top priority is providing students with a high-quality education in a safe and effective learning environment.”

Roberts said her consultations with district teachers had a similar sentiment.

“We have a lot of teachers that are really angry that they have to wear a mask again - not that they argue [it] - they’re just disappointed that we aren’t at a point where they can teach without a mask,” Roberts said of those conversations. “From what I’m hearing, they get it.”

The mask requirement applies to everyone inside Boise school buildings, and outdoors for large groups if they are not spaced out.

As the meeting was concluding, anti-mask advocates in the room began yelling at the board. The live stream was cut off before the vote to adjourn was heard.

The district is moving forward with a full in-person schedule this fall, including sports and extracurricular activities. Pandemic-related protocols will continue to be reviewed regularly and may change as conditions dictate.

Online school will remain a fully-staffed education option for families choosing not to return in person. The school year begins August 16, 2021.