Student wearing a mask FILE 4

In this Sept. 17, 2020, file photo, students in face masks arrive on the Gila Ridge High School campus on the second first day of school, in Yuma, Ariz. School officials say several men threatened to make a citizen’s arrest of an Arizona school principal while at least one brandished cable ties in a confrontation over virus rules. Mesquite Elementary School’s principal called police Thursday, Sept. 2, 2021, after she met with the men and they initially refused to leave. The arrest is the latest in a number of confrontations and other encounters in school settings over virus-related rules. (Randy Hoeft/The Yuma Sun via AP, File)

CHEYENNE – Quarantining is now optional for students and faculty who have been exposed to COVID-19 in Laramie County School District 2.

The Board of Trustees in the eastern Laramie County district voted unanimously Monday night to make the change, which is effective immediately.

Instead of quarantining, those exposed to a person who has had a positive COVID-19 test, with no mask on, will have another option. As long as they appear asymptomatic, they may go to school with a mask on, and they must wear it for five days after a negative COVID test, or a full 14 days without testing.

Although they will have the option to take masks off with a negative COVID-19 test after less than a week, students and faculty will not be required to take a COVID test if they are in contact with a positive case.

The suggestion to provide this option for community members in LCSD2 was made at last week’s board meeting by Trustee Billie Wilson. She said she wanted to look into more creative solutions for COVID-19 exposures, which members of the board considered throughout the week.

Trustee Mike Olson, who chaired Monday’s meeting in Trustee Julianne Randall’s absence, said the final decision was made in an effort to keep students in the classrooms.

“All board members of Laramie County School District 2 feel that our students perform best and have the best possibility of success in their education if they are in school,” he said. “And we cannot provide them with quality education if they’re sitting at home in a close-contact quarantine.”

This decision will impact 57 individuals in LCSD2 who were actively quarantined as of Monday afternoon, giving them the option to come to school with a mask on instead. The 12 students and faculty with a confirmed case of COVID-19 still must stay home.

Olson said in preparation for the meeting, the board reached out for legal counsel. But they did not contact the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department for input between meetings on the possible hazards and implementation of the new policy.

Superintendent Justin Pierantoni, who has asked at multiple board meetings to have a part-time masking requirement put in place, said the board felt comfortable making the decision without the counsel of the health department.

“They feel that with the current state of not having a mandate or orders in place that it’s within their discretion to do so,” Pierantoni said.

Kathy Emmons, the director of the Cheyenne-Laramie County Health Department, said she was disappointed with the final vote. She has been urging board members in both districts to put a mask mandate in place since the start of the school year, as COVID numbers spiked throughout the county.

Last week, the Laramie County School District 1 Board of Trustees mandated masks for indoor use when people can’t social distance from one another. Since Aug. 18, the state’s largest district has had 266 confirmed positive COVID-19 cases, and 1,306 students and staff have been quarantined. As of Tuesday, there were 76 positive cases among students and 13 among staff, and 285 students and one staff member remained in quarantine at home.

“What my biggest fear is,” Emmons said, “is that somebody gets seriously ill, or, worse, would be that we would lose a teacher or a child.”

The disappointment she feels toward the LCSD2 decision not only stems from fear of further spread in the community, Emmons said, but the confusion it will likely cause families. Students and faculty exposed to COVID will now receive two letters.

One will be a quarantine order from the health department, which requires individuals exposed to self-isolate at home for 10 days with no test, or seven days after a negative test. And the other will come from the school, which is only a recommendation to quarantine at home or to wear a mask to school for the allotted time. Students and faculty won’t be required to take a test, so there is also no way to know whether an asymptomatic individual is continuing to spread COVID at school.

Emmons said even though the individual will attend school with a mask on, there is still a risk of infection for others. That is because the transmission rate is at its lowest when all community members are wearing a mask, and properly, which is not the case in LCSD2 schools.

Although she was not consulted on the effects and risks of this decision, Emmons said she is sure they are aware of her stance.

This holds true, as another action item on the LCSD2 Board of Trustees agenda was to draft a formal letter of complaint to the county health department. Trustee Wilson suggested writing the letter in response to the health department’s involvement in decisions regarding COVID-19 protocols with the school.

Olson said some members of the board felt the health department has overstepped its bounds. An example he provided was from the beginning of the school year, when health officials recommended quarantining an entire school bus after the bus driver tested positive for COVID-19.

Emmons’s response to the recent discussion was only that her direction and guidance came from the State Department of Health and the county Board of Health.

“There are times when people don’t agree with that,” she said, “but I’m going to do what I need to do within the guidance I am given to keep kids safe. And if people get upset, I’m sorry, but that’s my job.”

The motion to formally draft the letter was not passed after a split vote by the board, but two other actions were. Directly correlated to the decision to make at-home quarantines optional, an action was passed to draft a letter to parents and faculty on the new protocols.

The other was the development of a COVID-19 strategic matrix.

Olson said this was passed in order to set a threshold for when the board needed to meet outside of the regular schedule. It requires a special meeting to take place if any school building in the district experiences a 30% absence of students and faculty.

He hopes after the recent decisions made by the board, less time will be dedicated to discussions surrounding COVID-19 cases and health protocols. Olson said he wants the board, staff and students to get back to the most important focus, which is educating and learning.

“That’s what they do best,” he said.

Jasmine Hall is the Wyoming Tribune Eagle’s education reporter. She can be reached by email at jhall@wyomingnews.com or by phone at 307-633-3167. Follow her on Twitter @jasminerhphotos and on Instagram @jhrose25.

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