Mandating Masks, did it really keep kids in person in Boise schools 5 days a week? Did it keep covid cases down? Did Boise schools District fare better than Nampa or West Ada who had less covid restrictions? Let's find out...
“Requiring everyone in our schools to wear masks, regardless of their vaccination status, along with other proven mitigation measures, is the safest way for us to provide in-person school, five-days-a-week,” added Boise School District Superintendent Coby Dennis.
And further the district made this statement in a newsletter:
“We know from last school year that face masks work to stop the spread of COVID-19,” said Boise School Board President Dave Wagers. “We’re disappointed that we have been forced to take what feels like a step backwards, but our top priority is providing students with a high-quality education in a safe and effective learning environment.”
So, is it true? The short answer is “no”. How do we know? We only have to look to our neighbors in West Ada and Nampa. In the words of Board Chair Rusty Coffelt, “If masks were ‘the fix’, we’d be seeing it next door (in Boise).”
Many school districts are currently keeping a covid tracker. Nampa and Boise maintain a spreadsheet and West Ada maintains a dashboard. West Ada’s numbers are slightly shifted from many districts because they report by week of symptom onset, whereas most other districts report by week of report. For example, if a student feels sick on Friday, gets tested over the weekend and reports it to the district on Monday, Nampa and Boise would count it on the week where it was reported and West Ada would count it for the previous week, when symptoms began.
Nampa’s plan has been the most lax since the beginning of the school year. Optional masks, no physical distancing, no quarantine or contact tracing. Some schools e-mail notify if there’s a potential exposure and some do not.
West Ada’s plan has bounced around quite a bit this year. They started with required masks, but families could opt out. The opt out option was revoked in mid-September, but medical exemptions have always been accepted just by providing a note from a medical professional. After Thanksgiving, students returned to school with optional masks. They’ve had all of their sports, activities, concerts, etc.
Boise’s plan is, not only the most strict of the three, but the most strict in the entire state. Required masking, quarantine if exposed, limited or no volunteers (depending on the school), many canceled activities such as band concerts, plays, holiday performances, field trips, etc. Unlike McCall-Donnelly and Blaine County (the only other two districts still requiring masks), Boise requires masks during band and PE and there are no medical exemptions that we are aware of. They require mask exemptions to go through the 504 process and all that we know of have been denied even for special needs students, students with autism or sensory processing diagnosis, students with speech delays, chronic headaches or invasive nasal infections due to mask wearing.
So, what do we have to show for it?
We know our attendance is lower than many districts in the state, on par with West Ada and lower than Nampa for the beginning of the school year. Our enrollment (see page 18) is down despite the population boom over the past few years (new post coming soon on enrollment). A new Johns Hopkins study indicates that lockdowns had minimal impact on COVID deaths, but had enormous impact on businesses, education, mental health, general well-being, etc. We also know that our own remote/hybrid school year of 2020/2021 resulted in double the percent of economically disadvantaged students falling out of the “at grade level (proficient)” reading level than the state-average and West Ada and that youth mental health is in crisis.
Boise School District did weather both the Delta surge and the Omicron surge without having to close schools, but so did West Ada, Vallivue, Payette and many other “mask optional districts” (West Ada has been mask optional since Thanksgiving and the others all year). Nampa and Peace Valley closed a handful of schools due to staffing shortages even though they do not require masks.. McCall-Donnelly and Sage International both experienced temporary closures even though they both have required masking. Many of the school districts around the country that closed have as strict as or more strict COVID protocol and many of the districts around the state and country that remained open do not have strict protocol. So, we can’t point to strict COVID protocol as the reason why we were able to remain open because there’s too much variability. Many schools with strict protocol closed and many without any protocol remained open. And vice versa.
So, what about our covid cases? Surely those must be lower, as a percent of the student/staff population, than West Ada and Nampa… right? Again, no. This is a comprehensive spreadsheet that compares the weekly-reported COVID cases between districts for Nampa, West Ada and Boise. The spreadsheet has links to each district’s plan and info on the number of students/staff used for calculations. Remember, West Ada tracks by week of symptom onset and Boise and Nampa track by week of report so there is a bit of a shift in the data between the three. We’re not including data from last week (1/30/22) since those numbers will be updated throughout this week. Here’s how the three districts compared both for the week and with a two-week running average between Thanksgiving and Christmas and since returning from Christmas break. As you’ll see, West Ada consistently has the lowest percentage of student/staff COVID positive case rates and Boise and Nampa bounce around on who has a higher percentage any given week.
If we look at the weekly average and the total for the entire year, we see, again, that West Ada has the lowest case rates as a percent of student/staff population and Nampa and Boise are very close and, in fact, Boise has both a higher average weekly case rate and total case rate than Nampa who, again, have implemented hardly any COVID protocol.
Here’s how the case rates for the entire 21/22 school year thus-far look in a graphical representation. As you can see, West Ada has been consistently the lowest. Nampa had a higher case rate than Boise during the Delta surge, between mid-October-December 2021, Boise and Nampa had nearly identical case rates, but Boise has had the highest case rate during the Omicron surge.
The trends for all three districts look an awful lot like the CDH and Idaho public dashboards. It’s almost like our school policies have no impact on virus transmission at all, both at school and within the community.
So, what do we have to show for all of our trouble? For removing parental authority from parents and bodily autonomy from staff and students by requiring masks? For all of the time and energy spent on contact tracing? For all of the classroom time wasted on mask compliance? For all of the strife and angst this has caused between families? For all of the school days missed due to quarantine when not actually sick? For all of the missed activities, field trips, opportunities, and IRREPLACEABLE CHILDHOOD MEMORIES?
Nothing. We have absolutely nothing to show for any of that.
Please, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org and tell them we have to put education first. We have to put students and families first. We have to put childhood first. And we have to do it NOW!