The Teton School District 401 Board of Trustees voted on May 10 to make masks optional at all schools for the remainder of the academic year, effective May 11.
Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme introduced the idea because Teton County has seen a steady decline in its active Covid case rate over the past months, and because all adults and teens 16 and older can now easily get the vaccine. On May 10, U.S. regulators approved the Pfizer shot for children as young as 12.
"The numbers show we should be backing off of what we are requiring people to do," Woolstenhulme said. "The data proves that."
The proposal had the support of many members of the public, but some expressed hesitation. Trustee Ticia Sheets said she was concerned for the safety of immune-compromised teachers and students who would lose the protection of being in classrooms with masked children. Sheets and Trustee Shannon Brooks Hamby voted in opposition of the motion, but it passed with three votes in favor.
Social distancing and staying home when sick are still recommended in the district. Masking requirements may be put back in place if Covid cases begin to rise again.
"At the end of the day, public school districts have to make the best decisions for the most people," Woolstenhulme said about giving students and staff the ability to choose for themselves.
The board also approved a proposed plan for the 2021/22 school year, which is similar to the district's current operating plan but makes masks optional at lower risk levels.
Principals quickly sent emails to the parents at their respective schools advising them about the change. Rendezvous Upper Elementary School principal Kristin Weston wrote in her email that there would be students and staff who will continue to wear masks, and they will be supported just as those who choose not to will be supported.
"I'm hopeful this personal decision will not be a sense of contention by either party. Please talk to your child in advance regarding his/her choice. Everyone should be confident in the choices they make in regard to their own safety and COIVD. With just 14.5 days remaining, I'm hopeful we'll finish the year safely and without students being targeted by others because of their decisions," Weston wrote.
Teton Middle School Principal Brian Ashton sent out a Youtube message about the end of the mask requirement and echoed the same themes. "We'll do everything we can to accommodate the needs of those who are here," he said, describing precautions that will be taken at the middle school's upcoming concert.
"If your child chooses to wear a mask, I promise you we will have their backs and we won't put that kid in the position of having to explain to everyone," Ashton continued. "We'll protect their right to make that decision and support what you're feeling at home."