GREEN RIVER — Following several public comments from the community Monday night, the Sweetwater County School District (SCSD) No. 2 Board of Trustees voted unanimously to make changes to the District’s Smart Start Plan.
The changes include making face masks “recommended” rather than “optional”, and deviates from the Wyoming Department of Health (WDH) guidelines so that if a student or staff member is wearing a face covering when coming into contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19, they will not have to quarantine unless they are showing symptoms.
Additionally, the same rule applies to students and staff who are socially distanced at least six-feet from someone who tests positive.
Superintendent Craig Barringer said the changes are being made in hopes of keeping students and staff in school, keeping activities as scheduled, allowing for family choice of face coverings, and slowing the spread of COVID-19.
Barringer said the plan isn’t perfect, but he hopes it will address the number of people who have been in and out of quarantine since the start of the school year.
Since the start of the school year, there have been 265 positive cases within the district and 836 quarantines, according to Barringer. That’s compared to 200 positive cases and 582 quarantines throughout the entire school year last year.
“Hopefully this will help us get our schools back on track because right now it’s a revolving door in and out,” Barringer said.
Public Comments Against Masks and Quarantines
Several parents and a couple members of the SCSD No. 2 staff shared their opinions on mask mandates and quarantines during the special meeting Monday night.
Dennis Laughlin, a father of three kids in the school district, claimed quarantines add stress to students and parents, and that masks should be the choice of the family.
“I strongly advise the following: that this board immediately cease contact tracing efforts or at the very least revise the resulting quarantine mandate to be a mere recommendation; that this board decide against the reimposition of mandatory masking; and that this board strike all coercive language surrounding vaccines from all current and future mandates,” Laughlin said.
Chairman Steve Core pointed out the revisions to the Smart Start Plan are aimed to keep masks a choice and to decrease the number of quarantines.
“We are not mandating masks, that’s not what’s on the table tonight. And we are trying this new program to possibly cut down on quarantines,” Chairman Core said.
Logan Hanson, another parent, noted that the CDC guidelines all along have stated masks are worn to protect other people, and therefore, he said the changes to the Smart Start Plan do not make sense. This is because the changes are not requiring the person who tests positive for COVID-19 to wear a mask to avoid those who come into contact with them having to quarantine. Therefore, he said masks should continue to be optional, not recommended or required.
“The proposed changes do not make any sense and do not follow what we have been told all along. We are putting our fears ahead of what is best for our children,” Hanson said.
He claimed the Wyoming Constitution gives people the right to make their own decisions for their health, and therefore masks should continue to be a choice and not a requirement.
Laura Pearson, a bus driver for the district, and parent Alyssa Moffat both spoke against masks and quarantines. Moffat claimed the mental health of the youth has deteriorated due to masks and quarantines and she accused the school board of not doing enough for students’ mental well being.
“There is no thought in this school board and in this state concerning our youth’s mental status,” Moffat said.
“I would disagree with that,” Chairman Core said.
“I don’t feel like there’s been enough effort put towards the mental anguish of this that the masks cause,” Moffat said.
Public Comments in Favor of Mandates
Breeun Palmer-Bieber, fourth grade teacher at Washington Elementary School and parent of two children within the district, once again advocated for the use of masks in school. She spoke during the last school board meeting in September asking for a mask mandate.
She empathized with everyone and their own individual experiences, however, she noted that last year students were able to learn, have fun, have the same parties and activities, and only one or two students were out of her classroom at a time, all with the use of masks.
Recently, she said she only had four students in class, and the rest were online due to quarantine.
“This isn’t working,” Palmer-Bieber said.
She said she doesn’t “love” wearing masks, but it is necessary to keep kids and staff in school.
“I can tell you last year, it worked,” she said.
Green River High School nurse Michelle Cordova pointed out that the changes to the Smart Start Plan ensure that parents get to make the decision whether nor not their kids come to school with a mask. Therefore, she did not understand the issue that others who spoke during public comment had.
“I don’t understand what the problem was,” Cordova said.
She noted that the changes to the plan were not her first choice, but rather her first choice was to follow the WDH’s and CDC’s guidelines. She said the district is trying something to try to cut down the number of quarantines and limit the spread of COVID-19.
“If this doesn’t work, logically the next step is to follow WDH’s rules and recommendations and the CDC recommendations,” Cordova said.
Prior to the board’s unanimous vote to approve the changes to the Smart Start Plan, the board members made a few comments regarding the plan and masks.
Trustee Mark Sanders said he believes in personal choice, and that, “this plan is still allowing for that”.
Trustee David Young expressed his “disappointment” in the community for allowing COVID-19 and the issues surrounding it to divide us. He also noted that people need to be careful to not let their own agendas effect the community’s youth.
“We need to be careful that we’re not using the kids as pawns in this,” Young said.
Trustee Rachelle Morris once again spoke in favor of a mask mandate, even if temporary just to bring the number of positive cases and quarantines down. She said she wants kids in school and she wants them learning.
“I do think that the masks worked last year. The data has shown that,” Morris said.
She said there are kids in the district who have lost parents, and that shouldn’t be happening. She said she thinks the changes to the Smart Start Plan may help in terms of quarantines, but she is not sure it will help with the actual health of students and staff.
“While this may be a way to keep quarantine numbers down, I’m still concerned that it doesn’t keep people heathy and that masks do,” Morris said. “We need to do more.”