OPINION: He (It) Who Shall Not Be Named

OPINION: He (It) Who Shall Not Be Named

The following opinion piece was written and submitted by Jay Harnack, Superintendent of Sublette County School District No. 1.

I’m just gonna come right out and say it. MASKS.

I know it’s the “He Who Shall Not Be Named” topic of school reopening, but I’m going to go straight up Order of the Phoenix and just say it (MASKS) so we can talk about “face coverings” and clear up some potential misconceptions. If you’re not a Potterhead, hang with me and I’ll speed through the pop culture and get to the point.

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First, if you’re expecting me to start a discussion regarding the relative merits of wearing a mask (or not), I’m not. I know this topic is being hotly debated nationwide, but in the case of reopening Sublette County School District No. 1 in the fall, the topic of masks is just not up for debate.

Why?  Simply put, it’s above my pay grade. In fact, it’s above the pay grade of our school board. It’s not a decision we get to make at this time.

Perhaps you’re skeptical and I can understand that. One of my personal inspirations, W. Edwards Demming said “In God we trust, all others must bring data.”

So here’s the data:

The current health order, NINTH CONTINUATION, AND MODIFICATION, OF STATEWIDE PUBLIC HEALTH ORDER REGARDING BARS, RESTAURANTS, THEATERS, GYMNASIUMS, CHILD CARE FACILITIES, K-12 SCHOOLS, COLLEGES, UNIVERSITIES, AND TRADE SCHOOLS covers all K-12 schools in Wyoming and states in Item 9.b. on page 8:

  1. Spacing of at least 6 feet between people shall be maintained whenever possible; face coverings shall be worn in situations where 6 feet of separation cannot be maintained.  This order also addresses transportation in item 9.d., which states face coverings shall be worn during transportation when six feet of separation cannot be maintained.  There are exceptions to these rules for students with health and or IEP issues, and our district will be following those rules.
  2. Yesterday I received a copy of a document entitled Smart Start Talking Points for Local Public Health Offices, Health Departments, and County Health Officers from Sublette Public Health.  It was provided to Sublette Public Health by the State Nursing Director.  I shared this document directly with our families and on our Facebook page. 
    1. It states: Do the districts have the freedom to choose whether masks are required?  Wearing face coverings is required by the current orders. When children or staff are unable to keep 6 feet of distance between them, such as when riding a bus, entering the building, or transitioning between classes or activities, face coverings must be worn (over 3 years of age).
  3. Item 11 of the current health order states, “Specific exceptions to the restrictions in this Order may be granted, at the discretion of the County Health Officer, under the direction and supervision of the State Health Officer…”   Could our district request an exemption to the standing health order?  Yes, but I met with our county health official on July 23rd to discuss the reopening of our schools.  At that time, he indicated that it was his expectation that we comply with the standing statewide health orders

So…in the immortal words of Inigo Montoya…

No. There is too much. Let me sum up. Let me explain.

  1. The standing state-wide health order for all Wyoming K-12 schools states that we shall wear face coverings when we cannot maintain social distancing (6 feet of separation).  This is not a choice I can make as the superintendent or even our local school board can make without a local variance.  The requirement is in our reopening plan and is in alignment with current statewide health orders.
  2. The person to whom we could make a request for a local variance (our county health official) has indicated that he expects us to comply with the standing statewide health orders.

That’s the end of the road in terms of the options we have regarding face coverings for Sublette County School District No. 1.

Is it possible this could change at some point?  Yes, but until it does, let’s manage some mask mischief.

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