NCSD may request mask variance if state doesn't lift school requirement after April 15 - Casper, WY Oil City News
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NCSD may request mask variance if state doesn’t lift school requirement after April 15


CASPER, Wyo. — Five parents of students attending school in the Natrona County School District urged the NCSD Board of Trustees to work to lift the requirement that students wear face coverings at school during the trustee’s Monday, April 12 work session.

Some of the parents said they have children who deal with anxiety or panic issues and that face masks have led to misunderstandings or exacerbated their emotional issues.

Brittany Jensen said that she has four children in the school district who have been “pretty un-phased by the masks.” But she noted that NCSD offers a virtual program for students or parents of students who do not feel comfortable attending school if masks are not required.

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Jensen said that she also thinks the science has not indicated children are the primary way COVID-19 has been transmitted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that while children can get sick from COVID-19 and can spread the virus to others “less than 10% of COVID-19 cases in the United States have been among children and adolescents aged 5–17 years.”

The CDC says that “several U.S. studies now also show low transmission among students in schools even when student physical distancing is less than 6 feet but other prevention strategies are in place.”

Some of the studies showing low transmission in schools were of schools where face masks were required.

” A North Carolina study found low transmission in schools and no instances of child-to-adult transmission of SARS-CoV-2 during a time when community transmission was high,” the CDC said. “Students were required to wear masks, and the schools implemented handwashing, daily symptom monitoring and temperature checks, contact tracing, and 14-day quarantine for close contacts.”

“Although this study did not report the specific distances maintained between students, verbal reports from school officials indicated that in participating districts students were placed less than 6 feet apart in classrooms. A study of the 94 pre-K–12 schools in the Chicago Archdiocese, the largest private school system in the United States, reported that the attack rate for students and staff participating in in-person learning was lower than the rate for the community overall: 0.2% among these students compared to 0.4% among all Chicago children. The COVID-19 reopening guidelines for the Chicago Archdiocese schools require 6 feet between cohorts but not for students within cohorts, as well as masking, hand hygiene, cleaning and disinfection, daily symptom monitoring, contact tracing, and 14-day quarantine for close contacts.”

The CDC pointed to one analysis which indicated transmission may be low even without face masking requirements.

“A statewide analysis of Florida K–12 schools, where not all schools had mask requirements or physical distancing requirements between desks, also found low rates of school-associated transmission,” the CDC said. “Resumption of in-person education was not associated with a proportionate increase in COVID-19 among school-aged children.”

However, the CDC said that evidence suggests rates are higher where mandatory mask use is not in place.

“Higher rates among students were observed in districts without mandatory mask-use policies and those with a higher proportion of students attending in-person learning,” the CDC said. “These findings provide further evidence for the effectiveness of universal masking especially when physical distancing cannot be achieved.”

“A study of 58 K–12 schools conducting full in-person instruction in Missouri, where mask use was required and 73% of schools used distances of 3-6 feet between students, found that secondary transmission was rare.”

Trustee Debbie McCullar said she agreed with the parents who told the Board of Trustees the mask requirements should be lifted.

“I can’t breathe with masks on,” she said. “I can’t believe that breathing our own carbon dioxide is good for anybody.”

“I think that if we don’t speak up and say something then we aren’t really representing the kids that we need to be representing.”

NCSD Superintendent Mike Jennings noted that the district is following the state’s COVID-19 related public health orders which remain in place for K-12 schools. Districts are able to request variances from the orders and some of the parents urged NCSD to request a variance.

McCullar said that while the district could apply for a variance, she said she thinks Governor Mark Gordon should step up and do away with the mandate. The public health orders are issued by the state health officer, though the governor is in communication with the health officer in regard to those decisions.

Trustee Rita Walsh said that if the public heath order requiring masks in schools is not lifted by Thursday, she thinks NCSD should go ahead and seek a variance. The public health orders in Wyoming are set to expire on April 15. The state has not released updates on whether the health orders will be extended beyond that date.

NCSD Associate Superintendent Walt Wilcox said that the district could approach the county health officers in Natrona to seek a variance if they want to go that route.

Jennings said he didn’t have a sense for whether the Natrona County health officers would support such a request from the district for a variance.

Trustee Dave Applegate noted that teachers have been given the opportunity to receive a COVID vaccine and said that because of this, he would be comfortable supporting a mask variance.

Applegate said that the variance would have to be approved by health officials and that he would therefore be okay with seeking a variance if the statewide order is not lifted.

Trustee Clark Jensen said that he dislikes masks, but that the district should survey students, parents and families before he would support a variance to lift the mandate.

Trustee Dana Howie noted that Wyoming schools have been able to offer in-person classes more consistently than in some other states like Colorado.

She said she had some concerns about COVID-19 variants and was cautious about lifting the mask requirements. But Howie said that if a survey of students, teachers and parents indicated support for lifting the requirement, she would support that.

Board Chair Ray Catellier said that so far the district has trusted the health officers and suggested the district put together a special meeting to discuss the issue in public and in the meantime do some kind of survey to gauge opinions regarding the mask requirements.

Jennings said that there is not the option to move students from brick and mortar to their virtual program if masks are made optional at this point in the school year.

He said that he would communicate with Natrona health officials to see whether they would support a variance request and let trustees know what their position on the issue is.

Even if the health officers don’t indicate support for a variance request, the trustees could still vote to request a variance.

The Latest Statistics from the Wyoming Department of Health:

What to do if you are feeling sick: In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, the Casper-Natrona County Health Department says that people who are feeling sick or exhibiting symptoms should contact their primary physician.

If you do not have a primary care provider, and live in Natrona County, please contact the COVID-19 hotline, operated by the Casper-Natrona County Department of Health. The line is open Monday – Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm 577-9892. Hotline services are intended for Natrona County residents and may not be able to provide specific information to persons calling from out of county.

Officials ask that you please do not self-report to the Emergency Room. Persons experiencing problems breathing should call 9-11.

For general inquiries and non-symptom related questions about COVID-19, please contact the Casper-Natrona County Health Department via email:

  • Practice Social Distancing by putting distance between yourself and other people. This is especially important for people who are at higher risk of getting very sick.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
  • Stay home if you’re sick
  • Cover coughs and sneezes. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze or use the inside of your elbow.
  • Clean AND disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily. This includes tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, and sinks.

A list of area closures attributed to COVID-19 are available here.