TWIN FALLS — Students and staff in the Twin Falls School District will be required to continue to wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 through the end of the school year.
The district’s school board voted to continue with the requirement, which ends after May 21, during its meeting on Wednesday. After that date, masks will be recommended for activities such as graduation and summer school.
Prior to the meeting, the district administered a survey to gauge students, parents and staff members’ thoughts on changing the district’s mask requirement.
According to board meeting documents, 4,108 parents and students responded to the survey as did 717 staff members.
District staff were more supportive of sticking with the mask requirement. About 53% said they agreed or strongly agreed that masks should be mandatory while about 39% said they disagreed or strongly disagreed and about 9% said they were neutral on the subject.
Meanwhile, nearly 42% of students and parents said they agreed that masks should be mandatory, about 51% said they disagreed with this option and 7% said they were neutral.
The school board was also closely split on the subject. The motion to keep the mask requirement in place passed with a 3-2 vote. Board members Heidi Casdorph and Paul McClintock voted against the measure.
McClintock noted COVID-19 case numbers are low in the region and said he didn’t feel comfortable telling parents whether their children should wear a mask.
He offered a compromise to the board with a motion that would have extended the mask requirement until April 26, after which masks would have become recommended. That motion failed 3-2 with only Casdorph supporting it alongside McClintock.
The other board members said the district should continue following the guidance of health experts like The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also said they would rather finish out the school year without any disruptions from potential COVID-19 spikes that could occur if the requirement were to be lifted.
Most of the other districts in the Magic Valley are no longer requiring masks, including Jerome, which voted to make masks recommended in March. The Buhl School District is also considering whether or not to revisit its mask requirement policy.
These debates around masks come as the number of local COVID-19 cases reach a low level not seen in the Magic Valley since last April. In its most recent regional risk summary released last Thursday, the South Central Public Health District assigned all eight of the counties within its jurisdiction as having a minimal risk level for COVID-19.
Superintendent Brady Dickinson told the board the district has had 19 students and 23 staff members test positive for COVID-19 since school resumed from winter break, and most of these cases were in January. Since early February, only four students and two district employees have tested positive.
Despite these improving numbers, Brianna Bodily, the South Central Public Health District’s public information officer, told the Times-News last week that the district continues to recommend people wear masks as the vaccine rollout continues. As of Wednesday, anybody over the age of 16 who lives within the health district is eligible to sign up to receive a vaccine.