GREEN RIVER — Two concerned parents asked the Sweetwater County School District No. 2 Board of Trustees to bring a mask mandate back during the school board meeting Tuesday night, and one trustee expressed support.
Breeun Palmer-Bieber, fourth grade teacher at Washington Elementary School and parent of two children within the district, was one who advocated for a mask mandate.
Palmer-Bieber’s 7-year-old daughter and 9-year-old son only made it to school for four days before getting sick and testing positive for COVID-19 two days later. While their fevers only lasted for one day, Palmer-Bieber’s husband, Chris Bieber, came down with COVID-19 and became severely ill with an eight-day 103-104 degree fever. Bieber was the Green River High School head boys soccer coach for 15 years.
“He’s a healthy 40-year-old who is in pretty good shape,” Palmer-Bieber said. “This is not someone who should be sick.”
When his oxygen levels dropped, he went to the emergency room, and an X-ray showed that Bieber had COVID-pneumonia. He had double pneumonia in both lower lobes, according to Palmer-Bieber.
“We went to the U of U only to be told it wasn’t bad enough and to come back when it got worse,” she said.
However, before leaving for Utah, the family did not know what would happen, leaving both of their kids terrified of losing their father.
“We didn’t know what was going to happen when we left for the U of U, so Chris wanted to hug his children one last time. I had my 9-year-old son hold me tight while tears rolled down his face as he begged me to bring daddy home alive. He’s nine,” Palmer-Bieber said. “And my 7-year-old daughter thought daddy was going to die too.”
Palmer-Bieber believes a mask mandate would have significantly reduced the risk of COVID-19 exposure to her family.
“COVID was brought into our home because my daughter was exposed to COVID at school. If we had been in masks, the chance of her contracting COVID would have been lower,” she said.
She said that last year there was a much lower amount of students testing positive and having to be quarantined.
“Washington has had days where 40 students or more have been out due to COVID-related issues,” she said. “What we’re doing this year is not working.”
Palmer-Bieber pointed out that over half of her students are out of class due to COVID-related issues, hospital and medical centers are overwhelmed for testing and patients, and hospital employees are exhausted.
“Kids can be kids in masks. Last year my students laughed, danced, sang, learned, were in school, and most importantly, grew socially and emotionally and academically,” she said. “I want our students, their families, and our staff to be safe. Please mandate masks at Sweetwater County School District No. 2.”
Student Dropped from School Due to COVID-Related Absences
Megan Magnuson, a parent of three students, said that one of her daughters was exposed to COVID-19 and had to quarantine. At the end of her daughter’s quarantine time frame, she tested positive for COVID-19 and had to stay home from school even longer, pushing her past 10 days of absences.
The Wyoming Board of Education has a statute that says if students miss over 10 days of school they will be unenrolled from school. This happened to Magnuson’s daughter. Though Magnuson understands it is a state statute, she said this would not have happened if the school district still had a virtual learning option for students who are quarantined.
“I am very disappointed with how we have handled COVID absences this year. If the student is quarantined but is still getting on daily to meet with teachers and do school work, then they shouldn’t have to be marked absent,” she said. “Now kids are being punished for absences that are completely beyond their control. A virtual learner is better than no learning at all.”
Magnuson added that her oldest daughter also had to quarantine and has missed out on opportunities such as participating in the Green River High School play.
“She’s ready for a mask mandate school wide so she can stay in school,” Magnuson said about her oldest daughter.
Her daughters go to three different schools, which increases her family’s risk of exposure, and she said her family can’t be the only ones going through something like this.
“There are some that are terrified of the pandemic, some that think it’s a joke, and some that sit somewhere in the middle. No matter where we stand, I think we can all agree that what we are doing as a district and how we are handling the current situation isn’t working. Our students’ education is at risk, families are at risk, and something needs to change,” Magnuson said.
Current COVID-19 Stats
Assistant Superintendent Alan Demaret gave a district-wide COVID-19 update, in which he went over quarantine protocols and practices and explained the impact on the district so far this school year.
As of 2 p.m. Tuesday, Demaret said the school district had 57 students and staff who are positive for COVID-19, and 119 students and staff who are quarantined. This is out of 2,381 students, he said.
“I think that any number up there is more than we’d like to see, obviously,” Demaret said.
Last school year, the district had 200 students and staff test positive for the entire year, as compared to 149 so far in the first month of school this year. As for quarantines, the district had 582 total quarantines for the entire year last school year, and has already had 427 quarantines this year.
“Already we’re seeing a different impact. Again, we’re not here to discuss science and all those components, but we know we’re dealing with a different virus, we know we’re dealing with something different than we did last year that’s definitely targeting our students a lot more, and we’re seeing it not only in our district, but across our state and country,” Demaret said.
He explained that the school district is aware of their role in the community and the impact they have throughout the city. He said the community can see the impacts of COVID-19 in the schools through families having to stay home from work, family members contracting the virus through a kid bringing it home, industry can be negatively affected by workforce having to stay home, and medical facilities are becoming overwhelmed.
“This is a consequence, unfortunately, of COVID-19,” he said. “We need to be aware of these things as we move forward.”
Demaret said the next steps as of Tuesday night are to continue monitoring quarantine numbers, set up some vaccination clinics for students and staff for those who are interested, and to continue to strongly encouraged students and staff to wear masks.
Trustee Morris Expresses Support for Mask Mandate
Following the COVID-19 update, a few of the trustees expressed their gratitude for students, staff, and families for the way they have handled the pandemic so far, and Trustee Rachelle Morris even stated her support for a mask mandate.
“I am ready to see masks go back on kids,” Morris said. “We’ve lost a lot of people in this community.”
She said that he has a 34-year-old friend who is in the ICU with a 32 percent chance of surviving because her kid brought COVID-19 home from school.
“There’s no reason for that. It we can prevent that from happening, we need to do what we need to do. My job is not to keep kids out of masks, my job is to keep kids in school. They can survive wearing masks just fine. They did last year,” she said.
Chairman Steve Core said he is not quite ready to enforce a mask mandate, but he strongly encourages masks.
“There’s no doubt masks work, they do. I encourage people to wear masks. I’m not there yet on a mask mandate, I’ve said this several times, the solution is not the mask; the solution is vaccination. But that doesn’t deal with our kids that are 12 and under,” Core said.
However, he said he does support coaches and sponsors of activities to require mask mandates on buses if they see fit.
“Going to public schools is a right… however extracurricular activities, in my opinion, is a privilege. Coaches and sponsors can set the rules,” Core said.
Demaret’s full COVID-19 update can be found here.