In a narrow 5 to 4 decision, the Natrona County School District board of trustees voted against requesting a variance from the Wyoming Department of Health that would have removed the mask mandate for the remainder of the school year.

Trustees Kyla Alvey, Rita Walsh, Kianna Smith and Debbie McCullar voted for the variance.

Trustees Clark Jenson, Thomas Myler, Dave Applegate, Dana Howie and Board Chairman Raymond Catellier voted against.

During the school board meeting, the results of a survey that asked parents and staff whether they wanted the mandate or not was shared.

It showed that, among the 4,537 respondents, 80% of parents and 75% of staff wanted the mask mandate gone.

Of the 19% of parents that wanted to keep the mandate, the survey asked if they would or would not keep their children in school, with 23%, or 205, saying they would not.

Several of the trustee, like McCullar and Alvey, said that the large number of yes responses meant that the board needed listen to what the community was saying and repeal the mask mandate.

However in the lead up to the vote, Jenson talked about how while it is important to note how many voted against the mandate, it is equally important to consider the 205 parents that said they would not keep their kids in school and how they would feel if the mask mandate was removed.

Earlier on, superintendent Mike Jennings said that if parents choose not to have their children remain in school if the mandate is removed, the school would need to figure something out to address the needs of those students for the remainder of the school year.

Jennings said that while it would take some time to ramp up virtual learning for students that wanted it, if students were not in school for five days, they would be considered as having dropped out.

Several health experts also spoke during the meeting, from Natrona County Health Officers and infectious disease specialists Drs. Mark Dowell and Ghazi Ghanem, to Dr. Andy Dunn, Chief Medical Officer at the Wyoming Medical Center.

While the experts didn't fully agree on how long people in the school district should be wearing masks or how many people need to be vaccinated before they feel it would be safe to fully open, they did agree on one thing.

Wearing a mask lowers the risk of everyone contracting COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, they said.

Dowell mentioned how surprising it was that for the first time in 15 years, there have been no cases of influenza in the county, which he attributed directly to the fact that people were wearing masks.

Nathan Ker. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media
Dr. Nathan Ker. Tom Morton, Townsquare Media

The meeting also included a public comment period in which 15 people addressed the board to voice their issues with keeping a mask mandate in place.

Concerns ranged from the low amount of cases in Natrona County, to the damage masks were having on students emotionally and physically.

Dr. Nathan Ker talked about studies that have been done disputing the efficacy of masks in general. Each public comment received a round of applause from many in the audience.

No one in the audience spoke in favor of the mask mandate.

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