TORRINGTON – The Goshen County School District 1 Board of Trustees voted to rescind the mask mandate in the district on Oct. 28.
The decision came almost two months after the policy was initially put into place on Sept. 2.
For public comment, the board required speakers to indicate if they were for or against rescinding the mandate prior to the start of the meeting. The board allotted 90 minutes for public comment, which was split evenly, 45 minutes for each side.
Six members of the public spoke in favor of rescinding the mask mandate.
Taylor Anderson said as a pediatric nurse, she believes masks should be worn in hospitals, but not in schools.
“This is not a place to require a mask. Our kids get sick, absolutely,” Anderson said. “We see sick kids everyday, but guess what? They’re going to get sick, they’re going to recover, they’re going to move forward.”
Anderson added it should be up to the parents to make health decisions for their children.
Rod Wagner said he has opposed the mask mandate at several meetings, and believes masks represent a fear tactic from the government. Wagner also referenced Patrick Henry’s quote of “give me liberty or give me death.”
“I’m here to ask you for liberty for our kids and stand up for the American way,” Wagner said.
Karen Posten said the board did not listen to the public during the last special meeting for a mask mandate, and they should remember the golden rule to treat others as you would want to be treated.
“Please consider, is this how you would like to be treated,” Posten said. “Let’s also talk about what will happen when a mandate is passed that goes against your beliefs. One that affects you personally in a way that you don’t believe. It will happen.”
John Cummings related the community divisiveness on mask mandates to Marxism and socialism.
“They divide, and that’s just exactly what this is,” Cummings said. “Divide any way you can. Race, religion, sex. Whatever.”
Cummings also said Americans in the past fought for freedom and not for safety.
“If you want to be safe, buy your own little island or something,” Cummings said.
Bob Peterson addressed the board about the modified rules for the original public comment time. Peterson believed splitting the comment time based on which side people were on made it seem as though the community was split evenly on the decision, and he was displeased with having to state which side he was on before speaking.
“You are taking away free speech when I have to come up and state what side I’m going to be on. No one should have to do that just to speak,” Peterson said.
Rebecca Cochran rounded out the speakers in favor of rescinding the policy. Cochran said the board did not listen to everything the public presented to them before making the decision in support of a mask mandate.
“If you’re not going to listen to science, and data, and emotion and the law, what is left to make a decision on,” Cochran asked. “I think it’s fear.”
On the other side of the argument, Marci Shaver said it was ironic the board was contemplating the decision the week of Halloween, when kids go out to the community to get candy. Shaver also said masks are the best way to fight against the COVID-19 virus, which has made a historic impact on the nation.
“We are battling the worst pandemic since 1918. We are fighting a brand new disease, which can be slowed or stopped by the wearing of masks,” Shaver said.
Rick Breedlove related the board’s current decision to decisions he had to make when working for Child Protective Services.
“The matter of danger was always the dividing line,” Breedlove said.
Now the question of children being in danger is divided on whether there is more harm in the virus or the masks.
Andrew Patrick told the board they made the decision to mandate masks at the best time, since cases in the nation, and especially in Goshen County, started to rise. Patrick also talked about integrity and what it means to him.
“Integrity means doing the right thing, regardless of the consequences,” Patrick said.
Patrick added integrity becomes easier to act on the more it is done.
Rob Branham was the last member of the public to comment on the issue. Branham compared the mask mandate decision to a decision which was made when he was on the board.
“While I was on this board, we passed the drug testing law. We had public forums around the county, and we were called every name in the book,” Branham said. “We were doing the right thing for the kids.”
After public comment, the board discussed the motion to rescind the policy.
Trustee Kerry Bullington said she was unsure why they were having the meeting and stated Goshen County has the fifth-highest number of cases per 100,000.
“Why would we talk about rescinding a mask mandate now? I don’t understand,” Bullington said.
Chairman Zach Miller, who initially voted to approve the policy, said a school mandate doesn’t work as well if it is the only place in the community to require masks.
“If there was a city or a county mask mandate, I believe my decision this evening would change,” Miller said.
The chairman also added his personal observations from the past week have influenced his decision.
Miller, along with Trustees Taylor Schmick, Michael Sussex, Dylan Hager, Matt Cushman and Chaires voted in favor of rescinding the mask mandate. Bullington, Katherine Patrick and Carlos Saucedo voted against.
The board also approved rescinding the mask mandate on all school district transportation 5-4. Schmick, Sussex, Hager, Cushman and Chaires voted yes. Miller, Bullington, Patrick, and Saucedo voted no.
After the meeting, Miller said the public’s opinion is something the board takes into account when making decisions.
“I think public input is always something we desire, and I’m glad we had a fair number of individuals present on both sides of this issue,” Miller said.