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Buhl School District keeps mask requirement in place for remainder of year

Buhl School District keeps mask requirement in place for remainder of year

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BUHL — School district students and staff will be required to continue to wear masks through the end of the school year in Buhl to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

During its meeting on Tuesday the district’s Board of Trustees voted 3-2 to keep the district’s mask requirement in place until the last day of school on May 21. After that, masks will become optional at district functions like graduation or summer school.

Prior to the school board’s vote on Tuesday, the district sent a survey to parents, students and staff to gauge their thoughts on the mask requirement. Interim Superintendent Wil Overgaard presented the survey findings to the board during the meeting.

He said of the 109 staff members who responded, 51% said they either agreed or strongly agreed with continuing the district’s mask requirement. However, 53% of the 220 high students who responded, as well as 62% of the 355 parents who responded, disagreed or strongly disagreed with continuing this policy.

Trustees Danielle Richardson and Mike Hamilton voted against the motion to keep the district’s mask requirement in place. Richardson said with the current low level of COVID-19 cases in the Magic Valley, it is time for families to decide whether or not their students wear masks.

“I just think we have to move forward at some point,” Richardson said.

Meanwhile, the trustees who supported the motion raised questions about some of the potential effects of lifting the mandate.

Trustee Carla Critchfield said removing the requirement could cause some families to pull their students out of in-person classes, which would then create issues with additional kids switching to online learning.

And trustee J.D. Gould said he was concerned that lifting the mandate could lead to some students either getting COVID-19 or needing to be quarantined because of exposure, which could cause them to miss year-end activities like graduation.

“Prevention is the best medicine,” Gould said. “I don’t want the seniors to miss out.”

The board’s decision comes as other school districts around the Magic Valley are reconsidering their mask mandates as COVID-19 cases in the region dip to a level not seen since the pandemic began last spring.

In its most recent regional risk assessment released on March 25, the South Central Public Health District reported all eight of the counties within its jurisdiction as experiencing a minimal risk level for COVID-19 transmission. The district moved Blaine County to the moderate category on April 1 after cases increased there. The health district will release an updated regional assessment on Thursday.

Throughout most of March, the number of new COVID-19 cases identified per day in Twin Falls County was in the single digits, according to health district data. This is significantly less than the hundreds of new cases that were identified per day in the county during its peak late last year.

Due to the low case numbers, the Jerome School District’s board voted to end the district’s mask requirement on March 19.

However, like Buhl, the Twin Falls School District’s board voted to keep its mask requirement in place until the end of the school year during a meeting last week. Also like Buhl, that vote broke 3-2.

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