As you know, we are living in unprecedented times and facing new challenges. I have watched these challenges divide us as a community and as a nation. I am writing this letter because I believe we can choose, as a community, to not allow ourselves to be divided, but instead to come together - even when we disagree. I believe we all have the same goal - to provide the best education possible to Grand County students. If we allow that to be our collective focus, we can overcome any differences in opinion.
One of the most divisive issues has been whether students should or should not be required to wear masks while indoors at school. Working together, the Southeast Utah Health Department, Moab Regional Hospital, the Grand County Commission, and the Grand County School District are following state law, using data supplied by local, state, and nationally recognized medical health experts, and utilizing local control to enact a K-6 and then, after a marked increase in school Covid cases, a pre-K-12 indoor mandatory mask mandate. By law, such a mandate can only be for 30 days. The commitment of the four agencies above is that every 30 days current Covid data will be examined and based on that data, the mask mandate will either be renewed or allowed to expire. Some of the types of data considered include: current Grand County transmission status, the % of positive Covid cases, the % of the Grand County population that is vaccinated, and the availability of both pediatric and adult ICU beds in the region. The current mask mandate is scheduled to end at the end of the school day on Friday, October 8. Using the above criteria the mandate will either be renewed or allowed to expire. The public will be informed of the status of the mask mandate on Friday, October 8.
Some community members feel strongly that whether a child is required to wear a mask at school or not should be a parent’s choice. One of the statements I often hear is, “My child, my choice.” Covid doesn’t follow that sentiment. If a child in a classroom is unmasked, and carrying the Covid virus, he/she can cause other students in the class to contract Covid. In that situation a parent is making the choice for another parent’s child to contract Covid. Some of our students are medically fragile, or have family members at home who are medically fragile. A mask mandate isn’t designed to only protect the person wearing the mask, it is also designed to protect other students, staff, family and community members. Further, the situation with Covid and mask wearing is not unique - there are many situations involved in school district operations that don’t involve parent choice. Some of these include: the dress code, school breakfast and lunch menus, the start and ending times of each school, the subjects that are taught, and the curriculum that is used to teach most required subjects.
Additionally, some community members have complained that their input isn’t being heard or considered. This isn’t true. There are strong opinions on all sides of the mask mandate debate. The GCSD Board and I have received phone calls, emails, and public comment regarding the wearing of masks from people opposed to the idea and from people in support of the idea. All input has been and will continue to be considered. After consideration of the input, a decision has to be made. If the decision doesn’t reflect an individual’s perspective or feedback, that individual may feel that his/her input wasn’t considered. This isn’t the case. All input is important, necessary, and valuable. All opinions matter. Please continue to provide your input regardless of your position on the mask mandate or any other issue. We are collectively better when we can hear and understand diverse points of view.
The goal of GCSD is not to have zero Covid cases. We know that isn’t a possibility. Instead, our goal is to keep students and staff as safe as we can, minimize the number of positive Covid cases, and keep students continuously in school. In order to do that, GCSD has adopted a layered approach of mitigation strategies in order to decrease Covid exposure. These include: HEPA air filters in every room, social distancing when possible, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, increased cleaning practices, isolating positive cases, quarantining close contacts when applicable, and of course, the wearing of masks.
GCSD supports the mask mandate because we know that when students wear masks they are more protected than when they do not. There are fewer absences when a mask mandate is in place. Fewer students have to quarantine. There are significantly fewer cases of Covid and less spread of Covid at school when a mask mandate is in place. The “test to stay” practice that has occurred in many schools and districts in Utah this fall has actually led to increased student absences, increased positive Covid cases among students and staff, and more work for teachers as they are required to provide instruction for their students who are in person as well as those who are quarantined. Recent research from the CDC and ASU has shown that when local metrics dictate that Covid cases are high, schools with mask mandates are better able to provide ongoing in person instruction for their students. That is the goal of GCSD staff, and why, as long as local metrics indicate the need, we will continue to support a pre-K-12 mask mandate.
If you would like to meet with me to share your input and have a discussion about GCSD’s approach to the mask mandate or Covid, please contact the District Office at 719-4758.