CHEYENNE — The Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees voted unanimously Wednesday night to require students and faculty to wear masks indoors to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Mask use will be required effective immediately. Thursday morning, students and faculty who are not outdoors on district property must wear a mask.
LCSD1 Superintendent Margaret Crespo said this decision was not made lightly, but it had to be put in place for the “social, emotional and physical wellbeing” of students in the district. Since Aug. 18, nearly 1,000 LCSD1 students in grades K-12 have been forced to quarantine due to the prevalence of the highly contagious delta variant.
The mask protocol is included in an addendum the board voted to add to the Smart Start Plan for the 2021-22 school year. The addendum does not change any other health protocols previously put in place.
The addendum states that if the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department community risk level is at “orange” or the current “red,” students and faculty will be required to wear masks indoors. Once COVID-19 cases decline throughout the county, and the levels move to “yellow” or “green,” masks will return to highly recommended by the school district.
Student-athletes who play sports indoors, as well as those in close contact outdoors, will not be required to wear a mask when actively competing or practicing. Only in the locker room, sitting courtside or in large meetings will masks be more than recommended.
The risk levels are color-coded and correlate to the total new cases per 100,000 people in the past week, as well as the percentage of positive tests. Red and orange levels mean the community risk is high or substantial, and yellow and green levels are moderate to low.
Trustees Christy Klaassen, Alicia Smith and Tim Bolin moved to amend the addendum to only require masks when the risk level was at its highest, which is red. That motion failed.
Currently, the county is in the high-risk category, which is a trend across the state. Ten major hospitals in Wyoming are at full capacity, and health officials from the Cheyenne Regional Medical Center said at the meeting they are just as overwhelmed. These health officials said they are also parents of children in the county.
Kathy Emmons, director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department, addressed the school board’s special virtual meeting and said action had to be taken in accordance with CDC guidelines. She said she is witnessing the effects of nearly 1,500 new COVID cases in the month of August, and it has to be mitigated.
LCSD1 is experiencing a strain on resources, as well, and has felt the impacts of the high community COVID spread in the county.
Before the board met, the district updated the number of students and faculty who have been isolated since the school year began. In addition to the almost 1,000 students who have been quarantined, there have been 182 positive COVID tests since mid-August. That is already 64.5% of the total cases LCSD1 experienced between the months of January and June.
The decision was not made without careful debate among health officials, board members and the superintendent. More than an hour of public comment also was allowed, during which doctors, concerned parents and grandparents, teachers and many other members of the community voiced their opinions.
Unlike previous school board meetings throughout LCSD1 and LCSD2, the majority of those speaking were health care professionals and parents urging the board to “believe the major medical authorities.” They said the difference between this year so far and the success of staying in an in-person learning environment last year was the requirement to wear masks.
The board made its final decision three hours later, and trustees said it was a decision made in an effort to support the community and its health care workers.
“It’s a no-brainer,” said parent Brenden McKinney.