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Fairbanks School Board votes to end district mask requirement in 2022

Published: Dec. 8, 2021 at 4:49 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - On Tuesday, December 7, the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board voted 4 to 3 to reverse a mask requirement in district buildings.

The requirement was put in place in September following a spike in cases at the beginning of the 2021-2022 school year.

The board heard public testimony from 24 community members, 13 in favor of a mask requirement, 11 opposed.

Those in favor of the requirement testified about the current public health emergency, and the lack of contract tracing being done by the school district.

Those opposed argued against the effectiveness of masks, and in favor of parents’ right to decide for their children.

In her public testimony, community member Kelly Nash said, “Your mask mandate has zero power here at all. Every mandate has been blocked, so any power you think you have to keep our kids masked goes out. Everybody online, if you send your kids to school without masks, do it. They cannot do anything. They can’t kick your kids out of school. They can’t yell at your kids. Just stop. Send your kids to school without masks on. They can’t tackle all of us.”

Meanwhile, community member Kasey Casort testified by saying, “I know many folks have strong feelings about this issue, but I hope we can listen to the students who just want to stay in their classrooms, and to whom masking is a minor inconvenience compared to shifting their entire lives back online again. Additionally, I’m especially worried about lifting the mask policy as we face so many unknowns with a new variant in the U.S.”

Board members Matthew Sampson, Jennifer Luke, April Smith and Maggie Matheson voted with the majority.

Chrya Sanderson, Erin Morotti and Tim Doran voted to maintain the mask requirement.

After hearing public testimony, the board held discussion about the issue.

School Board Vice President April Smith said, “It is time to free families from the mandate,” adding, “Personal mask responsibility is the clear, equitable option. It is our job to provide an education. It is a parent’s job to decide if what we are providing is safe and act accordingly.”

Tim Doran, Board Member for Seat E, cautioned against removing the requirement, saying, “We have followed a pattern where when we see surges in the lower 48, Alaska always follows those surges a little bit later, but we have them. We’re coming into a holiday season, winter break. We have travel. We have gatherings.”

The change will go into effect on January 3rd.

The policy of masks being optional will also apply to charter schools and schools on Fort Wainwright and Eielson Air Force Base.

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