CASPER, Wyo. – A group parents and students are planning to protest the Natrona County School District’s mask mandate this coming Monday.
Some 750 people have joined a Facebook group that sprang up after the NCSD school board meeting on Monday, according to Jamie Bates, one of the organizers.
“We decided that we wanted to hold a gathering a peaceful gathering at the next board meeting,” said Bates.
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Bates says the Facebook group “NCSD Variance Discussion” and the protests came in part out of frustration with the NCSD board meeting, where she feels that parents were not heard.
“There were only three people who spoke that were opposed, and those were the three infectious diseases doctors who have been opposed to anything,” she said.
A survey sent out recently by the school district reflected the unpopularity of continued mask mandates for the remainder of the school year, showing 74.7% of staff favoring requesting a variance from the state to remove the requirement, and 80.8% of NCSD parents and guardians in favor.
During the special meeting on Monday, NCSD trustees heard testimony from both health officials, who tended to ask that the mask requirements remain in place for the remainder of the year, and from parents and guardians, who tended to ask for the requirements to be removed due to perceived social and emotional side-effects of the requirements.
Ultimately the board voted 5 to 4 in favor of not asking for a variance.
NCSD vice chair Clark Jensen said “I want to lift the variance now, but my heart says we shouldn’t yet,” adding that in-person learning was superior in every way to online learning. Some 200 parents said in the survey they would at least consider removing their children from school if the mask mandate was lifted.
Many health experts credit the mask mandate for allowing in-person learning this year, and credit it for keeping in-school spread at a minimum.
Bates and other parents argue that Natrona County’s COVID numbers are low enough that wearing masks no longer makes sense.
To show their opposition, the online group has communicated with the NCSD, which is working with area law enforcement to safely accommodate the protest on Monday at the NCSD’s headquarters.
In addition, the group of parents are looking into other forms of protests, including “no-mask Mondays” where students refuse to wear masks, or to pull their children out of school on Monday. Both of those ideas are still in flux, she said.
Another member of the group who asked not to be identified stressed in an email that “parents appreciate and support their children’s teachers and are appreciative of having in-person learning this year,” adding the concern for many was the lack of consideration the board gave to parents and employees who would like a variance.
“The mask mandate has been lifted county and statewide, but not for our children in school,” the parent said.
“We’d like them to be able to finish out their school year without a mask,” said Bates. “The kindergartners especially, they have no experience of school without a mask, period. And our seniors, well, it’s their last month of school. Let them enjoy the last little bit.”
Additional reporting by Brendan LaChance
The Wyoming Department of Health provides COVID-19 case, variant, death, testing, hospital and vaccine data online. The department also shares information about how the data can be interpreted. COVID-19 safety recommendations are available from the CDC.