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Summit County officials crack down on Parley’s Park Elementary School

The Parley's Park case count dashboard
The Parley's Park web site case count dashboard

County officials are cracking down on Parley’s Park Elementary School starting today. Health officers were on campus enforcing the mask mandate that was supposed to go into effect a week ago, and the county attorney’s office is investigating why the health order wasn’t followed.

Parley’s Park students, faculty and staff went to school today required to wear masks – a big change from a week ago.

The school hit the 2% threshold of active COVID cases that requires masks be worn indoors on October 31. But last week a quarter to a half of those on campus were unmasked, according to teachers, parents and the school nurse. Five days after mandatory mask-wearing was supposed to begin, the campus recorded a big jump in positive COVID cases – six new cases Friday and at least one more today.

Now, the Summit County Attorney’s office is reviewing information exchanged between school district officials, parents, and the Park City Education Association to determine the extent of school’s non-compliance.

Summit County Health Director Dr. Phil Bondurant said his office is pursuing compliance at the school as it would any other business with health code violations.

"The health code dictates how we move forward," he said. "And it has a process that's laid out for us to confirm anytime we receive a complaint or we identify non compliance with any health code, similar to the process we use for a restaurant or any other establishment that is regulated under the health code or through a health order."

In a statement issued over the weekend, county officials cited school district administration confusion as the reason masks weren’t required on campus.

But Bondurant told KPCW today that the mandate, which Summit County passed last August, had been thoroughly vetted by lawyers and there should have been no confusion.

"We believe that when this went into place we had things worked out," he said. "It was hesitation at the time of implementation, there were still differing opinions and interpretation. The authorities were granted to move in this direction which is why Summit County took this action to implement a mask order that was threshold based."

As a growing number of school employees and parents have shared, the communication at Parley’s went beyond a confused lack of enforcement to active discouragement of the mandate. The school community was repeatedly told the mandate was optional and based on parental choice in messages on classroom slides, loudspeaker broadcasts and verbally to parents calling the office.

Listen to Principal Kim Howe’s loudspeaker morning message to students last week, given at Superintendent Dr. Jill Gildea’s direction.
The message was read over loudspeakers at PPES daily last week.
A recorded exchange between a parent and the school receptionist at PPES.
Recorded Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021.

Gildea issued a message to the school community today calling last week’s messaging her error for not giving clearer communication and said Parley’s Park was having a reset.

It was not clear why the parent choice messaging wasn't clarified after a week of escalating complaints from parents and the teachers union about the messaging.

The school board declined to comment.

Gildea's statement can be found online at pcschools.us. It outlines compliance rules and explains the consequences for not following them. It also highlights mask-wearing exemptions, and doesn’t mention spiking case counts at the school.

The new guidelines arrived a week too late for many in the community: more than 450 people signed a petition since Saturday urging the school to require masks, and dozens have emailed the district, school board and health department with concerns and dismay.

Parley’s Park parent Nick Hill, whose son is immunocompromised, said he heard about the mandate Monday, then on Wednesday saw half the people at school unmasked. The next day he got an email saying his son had had close contact Monday with someone who had tested positive for COVID.

On Thursday, he said things were even worse.

"Thursday evening, I actually counted how many people were in that room when I picked him up - it was 14 people," he said. "Eight of them are unmasked, including both of the teachers and 10 of them were crowded around the table together. So at that point, I was like, well, what, what is going on? I sent another note to the schools saying here's what I just saw, I am very concerned. I got no response."

In the Parley’s Park front office, a table was set up today for people to pick up students’ education materials to use at home while out sick, quarantining or being removed from school due to health and safety concerns. A parent counted six or seven people in line to do that at one point this afternoon.

Parley’s Park parent Lindsay Walsh said she canceled her daughter’s vaccine appointment for today, a day they’ve been eagerly anticipating – because she was exposed to a close contact last week and is quarantining.

In a statement to KPCW Sunday, County Attorney Margaret Olson said:

“We will be watching closely Monday and throughout the remainder of the mandate and will make appropriate, swift enforcement decisions as facts evolve. This could include imposition of criminal fines all the way to closing the school for the period of any mask mandate. That is certainly not a choice we want to have to make. We want to keep children in school. That is what the health order is designed to do.”

Hill and other parents said they want accountability.

"What I haven't seen at all from anyone is any kind of recognition that over the past week, a significant number of children and their families and staff have been exposed to this thing that didn't need to be." he said. "I don't understand why it took this public outcry. I still feel like I want to see some answers about why it did take that. I believe that school has a duty of care to my child. And I think the Park City School District has abdicated that duty very actively. In fact, they stopped people trying to exercise that duty of care to those children and frankly, I think people should lose their jobs over that."

KPCW asked the Park City school board why faculty and staff didn’t follow the mandate last week and whether the district should have been better prepared to implement the mandate. The board didn’t answer.

Board president Erin Grady said by email that the board is deeply committed to maintaining health and safety, and wished everyone out sick a fast recovery and return to school.