CHEYENNE – Wednesday night, school boards met in both Laramie County districts 1 and 2, where two different strategies to mitigate COVID-19 spread in the county were discussed.
One resulted in an immediate change, but the other did not.
The LCSD1 Board of Trustees voted unanimously to require masks be worn by students and faculty indoors on all district property. It came in response to Laramie County entering the high-risk category for community transmission, and more than 900 students and faculty members being quarantined in the state’s largest K-12 district.
The decision was encouraged by local county health officials, such as Kathy Emmons, director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department, and County Health Officer Dr. Stan Hartman.
“I’m all for individual choice,” Hartman said at the meeting, “but in this case, we have to realize that one person’s choice affects many other people.”
Just over a week ago, those same health officials spoke to the Board of Trustees in LCSD2 at a special meeting dedicated to adjusting COVID-19 protocols. They urged board members to consider new health protocols for their district, such as the suggestion for part-time masking from their own LCSD2 Superintendent Justin Pierantoni.
Within the first week, similar to LCSD1, the school district experienced a major spike in COVID cases. About 10% of the students and faculty in the district had to be quarantined due to exposure on buses and in the schools. The Burns High School football team also was unable to play last week due to quarantines caused by COVID-19 exposure.
Angry parents and skeptical community members asked the board to reconsider and listen to their input instead, which was not to invoke a mask mandate. The board listened and no decision was made, except to publish a COVID-19 dashboard with LCSD2 cases and quarantines.
Ten days later, there have been almost no changes in the status of COVID in their school district. LCSD2 has 12 active cases of COVID-19, which have impacted and quarantined more than 100 other students and faculty. Pierantoni said Thursday he will not release the district’s total COVID-19 cases and quarantines so far for the entire year to the public.
With 10% of the school district still absent from in-person learning, masking up for students and faculty was once again tabled by the board. LCSD2 trustees met at their regularly scheduled Committee of the Whole board meeting, and COVID-19 protocols were a minimal part of the conversation.
Pierantoni asked the board to consider his previous suggestions, which was to require masking on buses, school field trips and part-time masking on Mondays and Tuesdays. He said this would be to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 from the community to schools within the district after students come back to school after being home on the weekend.
None of those suggestions were agreed to by the board, but other options were put forward by trustees.
Trustee Billie Wilson spoke to her fellow board members about the possibility of sending students who tested positive home, but instead of mass quarantining students and faculty within the vicinity of the positive case, requiring them instead to wear a mask unless they showed symptoms. She said she wants the district to think outside the box.
According to guidelines for K-12 schools issued by the Wyoming Department of Health, a person in close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID-19 should self-monitor for symptoms if both parties were wearing masks. If one or both people weren’t wearing a mask, the close contact is required to quarantine for up to 14 days after the exposure.
The department defines close contact as being within 6 feet of a person who tests positive for COVID-19 for more than 15 minutes, starting 48 hours before the onset of symptoms.
Other trustees agreed with Wilson’s initiative to create protocols that encouraged minimal masking and said it could be a “game changer.”
Chairperson Julianne Randall said this is only the beginning of those discussions, and it may take more than one meeting to follow up on questions and allow for public discussion of any of the possibilities.
Pierantoni said, at this point, he doesn’t believe that discussions will ever head in a direction that results in a mask mandate in LCSD2.
“I think there’s just a lot of local input and people that would like to see what options we can pursue outside of going to a mask mandate,” he said, “and so we continue to figure out a way to meet that challenge.”