Sam Haut Townsquare Media
Sam Haut Townsquare Media

Following the Natrona County board of trustees decision to apply for a variance to remove the mask mandate for the remainder of the school year, over 130 people showed up to express their objections.

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Many people showed up with signs stating "We are the 80%" and "No More Masks," a sentiment echoed by the 45 parents, children and concerned community members who spoke to the board about their oppositions to masks.

Many who came to speak told stories about how wearing a mask has personally harmed themselves or their children, who suffer from asthma or anxiety.

One student, a senior at Kelly Walsh High School, talked about the seven different staph infections he has gotten since September that he attributes to wearing a mask.

Sam Haut Townsquare Media
Sam Haut Townsquare Media

Part of the reason for the large turnout at the meeting was because of a group, NCSD Variance Discussion, set up by several concerned parents on Facebook, which called for people to show up at the school board meeting.

One parent who helped organize the group, Jamie Bates, said she appreciates the decision to approve the variance, though wishes the mandate was removed sooner than May 10.

Bates said that while she is unsure as to why the board changed its mind, she believes the emails her group sent may have contributed.

"They haven't said why they decided to change their mind,” Bates said, “but based off the number of emails this group was sending to them, I'm sure they were persuaded that they needed to do something to mitigate problems today."

District spokesperson Tanya Southerland referred to an April 24 press release regarding what prompted the board to reverse its previous decision and said that the board did not need to vote on whether or not to apply for a variance.

After the public comment period ended, each board member shared their thoughts on the decision to apply for the variance.

Trustee Rita Walsh said most of the board would like the masks to be gone and feels the district has provided them with a plan going forward to address everyone's needs.

"I think most of us would be glad to be rid of the masks and there are those of us that voted that way before. I think we have a plan going forward and we're trying to meet the concerns of everybody,” Walsh said.

Trustee Dave Applegate spent much of his time reading out some of the emails the board had received from parents who did not want the mask mandate repealed, in order to show a more balanced picture.

The emails included a number of concerns, from not wanting kids to infect their grandparents, to the masks being the reason for the low transmission rates, to there being no reason for changing course with only a few weeks left in school.

Trustee Kianna Smith said she was surprised at the amount of hate that the board had received following its decision to not apply for the variance.

"Since last Monday's meeting I have witnessed what I can only describe as a collective temper tantrum by quite a few people who, otherwise would appear to be fully grown adults but have thrown this fit,” Smith said. “These extreme reaction, I have both heard them and read them on social media and in my email box and I think it's appalling."

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