SSD votes to keep mask/quarantine policy as is, reevaluate state requirements
Jacob PalmerThe Sheridan School District Board of Education voted to 5-2 at a special called meeting on Monday night to leave the current COVID-19 policy of optional masking in place for a period of three weeks.
In the meantime, the district will re-examine state quarantine guidelines for a better understanding of what is officially required on the part of the district in terms of quarantines and to explore possibilities to cut down quarantines.
The board will re-examine the situation in three weeks during the Sept. 20 regular meeting.
The special meeting was called to re-examine the district's COVID-19 protocols, including masking, after an excessive number of quarantines among students during the first week of school, in the absence of a mask mandate.
The current quarantine guidelines depend on a student or staff's vaccination status and the presence of symptoms. A fully vaccinated student or staff member does not have to quarantine if he or she is asymptomatic. Unvaccinated individuals do not have to quarantine if they are asymptomatic and both the exposed and infected individual were properly wearing a mask. The stipulation that both parties have to be wearing a mask means that an exposed individual wearing a mask still has to quarantine if the infected individual was not wearing a mask. The opposite is also true, an exposed individual who is not wearing a mask still has to be quarantined even if the infected individual was wearing one.
Board President Jody Spann kicked off the meeting by reminding the sizable audience to be on their best behavior throughout the meeting, something he would have to do on numerous occasions as rounds of applause often followed each speaker and even interrupted some.
Spann allowed Sheridan Superintendent Jerrod Williams to speak first on behalf of the administration. Williams started out by saying he respected the passion of the crowd on both sides. Williams told the board that the vast number of quarantines was severely impacting the district's ability to effectively educate students, since many were at home in quarantine.
"As educators, our job is to educate kids. We simply cannot do that job if those kids are not in school," Superintendent Williams said. "Masks will keep more kids at school. I just want everyone's kids here at school."
Williams' comments were notable, given that he was absent from the meeting earlier in August when the board voted to make masks optional.
Spann next acknowledged Board Member Jeremy Orman to give some statistics regarding masking. Orman noted that other districts comparable in size to Sheridan that had mask mandates had lower quarantine numbers and fewer active cases. Orman also said that approximately 400 out of the 500 students in quarantine could have avoided being quarantined if the district had a mask mandate.
Board member Wade Crosswhite asked if fully vaccinated students would have to wear a mask if the board imposed a mask mandate. Spann said that any proposed policy would likely be a blanket mandate for every student and teacher, regardless of vaccination status. Board member Bryce Lunday told Crosswhite that the board could implement any variation of a mask mandate it chose to adopt, but if the board wanted to follow official C.D.C. guidelines, it would be for everyone.
With that, the meeting was open to public comments from anyone that signed up to address the board. Dozens of parents, healthcare experts, and community members addressed the board. Each person was allotted three minutes to speak. Those opposed to a proposed mask mandate far outnumbered the speakers that wanted a mask mandate. The topic of the speeches ranged from parents who were upset with the quarantine rules, to opinions both for and against a proposed mask mandate. Spann had to stop the meeting on several occasions to warn the audience of the rules at the threat of being removed.
After approximately two and a half hours of public input and a short recess midway through the speakers, the issue was turned back over to the board to decide.
Board member Byron Hicks asked if the district was required to follow the quarantine guidelines from the state. Superintendent Williams said that it was his understanding that the guidelines from the state were enforceable rules and that each district was required to abide by them.
Hicks contended that it was something the district should look into and determine what was officially required on the part of the district in terms of quarantine. After some agreement from other board members, an official motion was made to have the district re-examine the state's quarantine guidelines to gain a better understanding of what's being officially required on the part of the district in terms of quarantines and to explore possibilities to reduce quarantines.
Hicks's motion was seconded by Board Member Jan Caldwell. The board approved the motion on a 5-2 vote. Board members Caldwell, Lisenbey, Lunday, and Crosswhite joined Hicks and voted for the motion. Spann and Orman voted against it.
See next week's issue of The Headlight for more on this story.
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