By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily
The largest school district in Wyoming will rescind its mask mandate for students and staff later this month despite rising active COVID cases across the state and nation.
The Laramie County School District No. 1 board of trustees on Monday night voted to discontinue the mandate on Jan. 21. The action was narrowly approved, with trustees Brittany Ashby, Christy Klaassen, Alicia Smith and Tim Bolin voting to approve the change to the district’s coronavirus response plan and Marguerite Herman, Rose Ann Million Rinne and Rick Wiederspahn voting against it.
“It’s time we lift the September addendum to the Smart Start plan,” attorney and former congressional candidate Darin Smith told the trustees. “It’s now proven beyond a shadow of a doubt that we can keep our schools open, have low to no risk for our kids and staff, all without the mask mandate. The rest of the state has already proven it.”
Once the mandate ends, students and staff will be encouraged, but not required, to wear a mask while in school.
As of Tuesday, 35 active COVID cases had been identified among LCSD1 students and staff, according to the district’s COVID dashboard.
Darin Smith, who is married to trustee Alicia Smith, emailed LCSD1 community members over the weekend to encourage them to email trustees — identifying those believed to be in support of or opposed to the mask mandate — and attend the meeting to voice their thoughts about the mandate.
Smith’s email also identified the board members who were running for re-election this year, although he mistakenly identified Herman as seeking re-election. Herman has announced she will retire from the board this year.
During the public comment portion of the meeting, several parents criticized the trustees for implementing the mask mandate and adopting quarantine rules for students to follow after exposure to COVID.
The public comment portion of the meeting lasted more than an hour on Monday night. Comments were similar to those heard when the mask mandate was adopted last fall, with some referring to school officials as “criminals” and “child abusers.”
The school district implemented the mandate at the start of the fall semester when the Delta variant of the coronavirus was of concern. Now, the omicron variant, which is less mild, is the dominant strain in state. The Cheyenne hospital was also at capacity due to an increase in COVID patients at the time.
As of Monday, Laramie County had 555 active COVID cases, the second-highest in the state, behind Teton County with 618, which is also the most vaccinated county in Wyoming.