The Albany County School District Board of Trustees continued a discussion this week about how schools are coping with surging COVID-19 case numbers.

Superintendent Jubal Yennie said he continues to work with medical authorities and met recently with school principals. Student attendance is at about 90% with staff attendance at around 85%, both of which are typical, he said. The district also has sufficient testing supplies.

“We’ve been able to manage,” he said during Wednesday's board meeting.

Trustee Nate Martin, who initiated the COVID discussion in the absence of a specific agenda item, questioned why reinstating a mask mandate wasn’t a consideration.

“All indications are that we might be trending toward a situation where we won’t be able to keep schools open,” Martin said.

Yennie said the focus remains on keeping schools open, and the district is in a good position from that standpoint.

“These are ongoing conversations,” Yennie said. “I am paying attention to this very directly all the time.”

Trustee Kim Sorenson said he was having “more and more trouble” with the idea of returning to a mask mandate because of the strain it places on teachers and students.

“Everything we’re doing says we want kids in school, but if you come to school without a mask we’ll kick you out,” Sorenson said. “We’re creating an environment where we’re creating criminals.”

Sorenson said educators aren’t trained to enforce mask mandates and it’s unfair to make them do so.

“Our school district has suffered through this, not only because of the illness but because of all things we were forced to do,” he said.

He said returning to masks now would be hard for the community.

“It would be an extremely difficult and highly unpopular mandate to make at this time,” he said.

Yennie said teacher surveys show that 60%-70% of teachers are wearing masks as well as 50%-60% of students. In cases where a teacher asks a student to put on a mask, students are generally compliant.

“In the times it will not work, it probably won’t work the other way either. We can work from that standpoint,” Yennie said.

During the public comment period of the meeting, several residents expressed concerns about rising COVID-19 case numbers.

“The current situation is not working, and we are in danger of once again having to move to online education,” said Amy Fluet.

Paul Steinke, a student at Laramie High School, said he’d like to see a mask mandate.

“As more and more cases are coming, my friends, my teachers and my coaches have to stay home,” he said.

According to the Wyoming Department of Health, Albany County is in the “Red Zone," indicating high transmission levels of the novel coronavirus as of Wednesday.

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