Sep. 17—Masks will remain optional for students and staff at West Valley School District following a long discussion about Covid-19 protocols at Wednesday's school board meeting.
The board voted 3-2 to stay in phase 3 of the district's Safe Return to School and Continuity of Services Plan, meaning there will be no changes to face covering rules or limits on group size.
Board members Justin Buls, Chad Grace and Marilyn Hedstrom voted to continue in phase 3, with members Stephanie Nadasi and Gretchen Brown voting to move to phase 2.
District superintendent Cal Ketchum said more than 100 people tuned in for the virtual meeting, with public comments falling on both sides.
Ketchum said trustees listened to the community in making their decision. A sticking point among some board members, he said, was the passive language used in phase 2 guidelines, which says face coverings "may be required." Phase 1 guidelines explicitly state masks are required.
The West Valley district, which includes K-8 students, has had 35 positive Covid cases so far this school year, according to data from Sept. 15. Quarantine by proximity or symptoms have been required for 98 students and/or staff. Nearly 500 days of school have been missed by students due to confirmed Covid cases and/or quarantine.
Those numbers are trending above other districts in the area. Whitefish has reported nine confirmed cases so far this year. Kalispell's entire School District 5 reported 21 active Covid cases as of Sept. 17, while Columbia Falls reported 23 confirmed cases in the district as of Sept. 10.
Only two schools in the Flathead Valley have implemented masking rules this year — Muldown Elementary in Whitefish and West Glacier.