Public Comments on My School District’s Response to Rising Cases of COVID-19 in Our Schools

I am the father of a child who attends a local, public school. Our school district recently dropped its mask mandates, opting for a masks-optional scheme. Masks would become mandatory again in a given school if cases reported or detected in that school over a five-day period exceeded 2% of that school’s population of students, faculty, and staff. (The plan only calls for the board to “determine” whether masks are necessary if the entire community moves back into “high” transmission.)

Today, two of the schools in our district hit the 2% threshold. The school board responded immediately… by requiring masks in those two schools effective tomorrow and by issuing a proposal for tomorrow night’s board meeting, under which they would drop that 2% threshold and keep all of the schools mask-optional.

Because this strikes me as about as reasonable as cutting off your parachute because you don’t like how it pulls on your shoulders when it’s slowing you down, I wrote the following.


I am a parent of a child at [REDACTED] and I am writing to express my opposition to any further weakening of the Health and Safety Plan. Nothing has changed about the virus or its risks that makes the current environment safer than when the 2% trigger was adopted. If anything, the opposite is true; the variants circulating now are the most contagious we have seen, and each is much more contagious than Omicron or other, earlier variants.

The only thing that has changed this week to prompt this conversation is a surge in new cases in RTMSD schools this week. This was entirely predictable—and actually predicted—but at least we planned ahead for what to do when cases went back up. Now that we’ve tripped the threshold we set for ourselves to go back to mandatory masking in a school, we apparently don’t like that decision so much.

The whole point of the 2% threshold was so we would have an agreed-upon (if far too high) trigger to initiate a more vigorous response to an outbreak. But instead of responding with increased safety measures as planned, we’re contemplating simply dropping the trigger and ignoring the rapid spread of COVID in our schools unless and until the entire community is engulfed. Even having this conversation at this moment is absurd, scientifically unsound, negligent, and shameful. To follow through by further gutting the plan in direct response to a surge in cases should be unthinkable.

I urge you to have the courage to do your duty and provide the children and staff of this school district a safe learning environment. Retain the trigger and keep masks mandatory in those schools that have reached it.

Sincerely,
Ed Cottrell


Update 5/11/2022:

A third school—my daughter’s—hit the threshold today with a 1.8% one-day incidence rate, putting it well over 2% for the five-day period. But I fully expect our school board to respond to these numbers by dropping the trigger so that “parents [can] make decisions that work best for their family circumstances,”* as if “family circumstances” have anything to do with how easily a virus spreads through the air in a crowded building.

* This is a direct quotation from the district’s message to parents yesterday.


Update 5/12/2022:

It’s moving to a vote on Monday, the soonest the board can legally vote on it. The rationale is that other school districts in our region have also eviscerated their health and safety plans recently, so we should, too. No mention of scientific or medical guidance or support. We “know how to respond” and “have a plan,” so that apparently makes it okay to remove the plan. Our school superintendent blessed parents who are uncomfortable sending their kids to school with a mask in the meantime to keep them home. She didn’t have any suggestions for parents who are uncomfortable with the rapid spread of COVID in the schools or the fact that the vast majority of people in the buildings are no longer masking.

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