PI Editorial: Re-2, parents should continue to seek dialogue, avoid legal threats | PostIndependent.com

PI Editorial: Re-2, parents should continue to seek dialogue, avoid legal threats

Post Independent Editorial Board

The mask mandate conflict between parents and the district at times seems like a zero-sum game where the only options are win or lose.

At least, that is how it feels following the recent response from some parents and community members toward the Re-2 school district’s mask order, which went into effect this week and almost a month into the school year.

While some would argue that Re-2 should have required masks from the beginning, we think it’s important to give the district credit for trying an approach that was the preference of many within their community, giving them the benefit of choice.

It’s also incredibly important to give Re-2 credit for maintaining in-person instruction throughout the entire 2020-21 school year. Just 17% of school districts nationwide accomplished that, and it’s to the credit of teachers, administration, the school board, students and parents that Re-2 was successful in their approach.

That shared success is part of what makes the atmosphere surrounding the district’s recent mask order disappointing. For the Re-2 board and district administration, masks are a key tool they can use to help stem the number of students required to quarantine so far this year.

To compare, Roaring Fork School District, which began the school year with a mask mandate, has seen 14 students quarantine as of Sept. 24, while Re-2 had 236 students quarantine in that time frame.

What we have learned over the last 18 months is that quarantine means students are temporarily moved to remote instruction, which can be nowhere near as effective as in-person teaching. It’s also isolating them from their friends and social groups, which can impact their mental health.

Unfortunately, as COVID cases continue in our communities, quarantining positive cases is required as part of our county’s public health approach until case numbers drop to lower than 35 per 100,000 people in a seven-day period. Complying with public health orders is also required by state law, as Re-2 Director of Curriculum, Assessment and Instruction Julie Knowles explained during a recent meeting.

So how does the district move away from requiring masks? More community immunity — the order could be lifted when case numbers fall to the level referenced above or when 80% of the community is vaccinated.

It’s anyone’s guess, however, when those metrics might be reached, which is where the frustration of many Re-2 parents and community members comes in. So far, mask opponents have provided a cease and desist letter (the district is not required to comply) and protested the policy at board meetings and public events.

We understand the frustration, especially as the pandemic shambles close to its two-year anniversary. Yet we’re not sure what opponents can truly hope to accomplish with a seemingly zero-sum approach of no mask requirements at all.

Re-2 tried that — and rising quarantines within the district and case numbers countywide led them to reconsider. Now it’s time to give masks an opportunity to help bring quarantine numbers down.

That doesn’t mean school board and administrators should ignore their critics or the voices of their parents and students who oppose the policy. For the benefit of both sides, there needs to be continued dialogue and communication. That’s unlikely to win opponents over, but it will almost certainly lead to more understanding, even if it’s begrudging.

Most importantly is that strong communication will help everyone — parents, administrators and students — maintain respect and compassion for one another even in the face of stark disagreement. Doing that will help Re-2 best serve all parties, both during and after the pandemic.

The Post Independent editorial board members are Publisher Bryce Jacobson, Editor Peter Baumann, Managing Editor/Senior Reporter John Stroud, and community representatives Annie Bell and Amy Connerton.

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