Masks will be optional in Juneau’s schools starting April 4 following a vote Thursday by the Juneau School District Board of Education.
At a noon meeting, board members took nearly an hour debating how to best update the district’s masking guidelines but eventually voted unanimously to lift mask mandates starting a week after the return from spring break.
Board member Brian Holst, who made the motion, said that it gives the district time to adjust to the change and would keep masking in place until after the break when families were likely to travel. Holst said the motion would make the district’s policies align with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines which board members have followed closely.
“Those guidelines have had a huge impact on our decision-making since the beginning of this pandemic,” Holst said.
The motion that was put forward and eventually adopted by the board said, “assuming (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) community levels remains Medium or Low, masks, or similar facial coverings designed to mitigate COVID-19 transmission and are well-fitted covering the mouth and nose, are optional for all persons indoors in the Juneau School District and on school grounds.”
The motion also allows Superintendent Bridget Weiss the authority to require face masks in certain situations consistent with CDC guidelines.
During public testimony, community members called in mostly to support lifting the mask mandate, with some parents calling for an immediate end to the policy.
In her comments, Amanda Spratt said the district’s mask policies have caused psychological damage to children.
“In your feeble attempt to save lives you have murdered their souls,” Spratt said.
Other callers noted that larger districts in the state and nation have already gone to optional masking.
Ibn Bailey, a parent and past school board candidate, said the board’s decision to include a buffer for spring break was a wise one. Bailey said one of his two children has a heart condition and his wife has been hospitalized with respiratory issues.
“There’s real-life implications for real people and their families,” Bailey said.
He said he would support delaying lifting the mandate until April 4 or even leaving the policy in place for the remainder of the school year.
But some school board members were concerned that the number of cases might rebound, and the district may find itself wanting to re-instate the mask mandate. Board member Emil Mackey introduced an amendment that would have made masks optional but included circumstances under which masking could be reimplemented.
Mackey’s amendment was lengthy, but he said he was trying to give clarity to the guidelines from the CDC, which he noted were frequently changing.
“I wanted to put something together that was comprehensive,” Mackey said. “I think we have to have these triggers in place now as we lift the masking mandate.”
Board members voted down Mackey’s amendment and another from Board member Will Muldoon that would have tied the masking policy to the City and Borough of Juneau’s community risk levels rather than the CDC’s.
In a statement, JSD spokesperson Kristin Bartlett said people may choose to mask at any time and the district will continue to operate symptom-free schools, provide testing for staff and student activities, follow test-to-stay protocols and provide masks to individuals who choose to wear them.
Board president Elizabeth Siddon said during the meeting she felt the language in the original motion allowing Weiss discretion to require masking in certain circumstances gave the district the flexibility to respond to a changing situation.
Mask mandates remain for public transportation
Masks will continue to be required on public transportation and in transportation hubs including the Juneau International Airport and on Capital Transit and CAPITAL AKcess, the city announced Thursday.
In a news release, CBJ said the guidelines would stay in place until at least April 18, following an extension of a directive from the Transportation and Security Administration.
• Contact reporter Peter Segall at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @SegallJnuEmpire.