Last week two local jurisdictions came into conflict when the City of Victor passed an emergency mask mandate and the Teton School District 401 superintendent informed the city that the requirement would not hold up within the halls of Victor Elementary School.
A day after announcing an emergency declaration for Victor that was ratified by the city council, Mayor Will Frohlich issued a mask order for all on Aug. 26, effective beginning this Monday, Aug. 30. The order applies to anyone, regardless of vaccination status, when “indoors in a public setting such as offices, retail stores, restaurant and bars, local government offices and schools within the City of Victor.”
The order specifically calls out schools because of the TSD 401 Board of Trustee’s decision last Monday not to require masks within the valley’s public schools. The decision resulted in some strong critiques from the mayor and city council at their Wednesday meeting.
“[The state of emergency declaration] is an attempt to protect our children and keep children in school,” Frohlich said during the Aug. 25 council meeting. “We all know what happens when schools shut down and I don’t think anybody wants that at the end of the day. When kids cannot go to school there will be issues.”
In a response on Aug. 27, Superintendent Monte Woolstenhulme wrote to the city: “The Teton School District respectfully asserts that it is not bound by the Mayor’s Order, nor by the City Ordinance requiring the wearing of masks indoors because both conflict with Idaho law and/or the Idaho Constitution, and will instead continue to follow the District’s Safe Return to School Plan approved by its elected Board of Trustees.”
According to the district’s legal counsel, the letter states, the district is an independent governmental entity, and thus the city has no jurisdiction or authority over school matters.
“I am disappointed by the superintendent’s refusal to comply with our masking requirements when our collective goal should be to keep our schools open and our children safe,” Frohlich said in a press release from the city. The city’s attorney is reviewing the district’s letter.
Public school students returned to class or attended elementary school open house on Aug. 30. In a press release put out last Friday, Eastern Idaho Public Health asked that all community members get vaccinated to protect those who are too young.
“Our plea to everyone is to do all you can, including getting vaccinated, to help slow the spread of COVID-19 in an effort to protect yourself, our children, and our healthcare capacity,” the release reads. It also recommends wearing masks indoors, social distancing, practicing good hygiene, and staying home when sick. As of Friday, Teton County had 42 active cases according to EIPH’s dashboard.
The reopening plan approved by the school board in June gives the district administration the ability to make school-level decisions based on the number of active Covid cases within the school’s population, absences, quarantines, and staffing capacity, rather than based solely on community cases. However, the plan does not include specific numbers to guide decision making.