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Park City school board member tells public no mask order violation occurred

PCSD BOE November 17 Meeting.jpg
Attendees at PCSD Board of Education Meeting November 16, 2021

During Tuesday's Park City school board meeting, board member Andrew Caplan said Parley’s Park Elementary School did not violate the county mask order. He called news of violations "incorrect notions," and "not factually correct," and said "The mask mandate was followed. We were up to code."

Park City School Board president Erin Grady began Tuesday’s meeting by explaining to the two dozen people in the audience that the board could not comment on the Parley’s Park investigation as directed by the school district attorneys.

Six people expressed concerns about the mask mandate not being followed by the school district and Board Member Andrew Caplan denied the district committed any violations.

“The notion that has been in the public and was reported on that we were not in compliance with the state-county health code is incorrect. And that is a fact. And I just want to clarify that because it is a popular narrative right now. We've received a number of emails upset with that notion. What I would encourage you to do if you have a trust issue is look to the people who told you that we were in violation and that we were ignoring it. Perhaps the trust issue is better served, asking them why they said that. And the mask mandate was followed. We were up to code according to the county."

Parents pushed back. Alyssa Olsen said the school district waited until November 8, one week after the mask mandate went into effect, to enforce the order, and they only did so when the county health department and attorney’s office intervened. Olsen said that diminishes trust in the school board and administration's ability to keep children and employees safe.

"I am very disappointed in your initial failure to implement the health order as written. Regardless of one's feelings on masks, the failure here is the district's blatant disregard for implementing policies as communicated--or was only implemented when a concerned district employee spoke out. There was a significant outcry from the community, and the Summit County Health Department intervened to ensure compliance."

Parent Andrea Buchannan, who said she volunteers at Parley’s Park five days a week, described being stunned when the school said it was up to the parents to comply with the mask mandate or not.

"I was gobsmacked, absolutely freaking gobsmacked. Like how could this be parental choice, you know? So, I spoke to the person who made the announcement. And she said it came down from the district and I understand that you guys are here saying that you cannot comment and that you followed all the orders but what we saw was completely the exact opposite. I don't know who didn't follow the orders, but the orders were not followed, period. I saw it. I heard it with my own eyes."

In all, six people stated concerns over the district’s handling of the mask mandate. Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson is investigating why the mandate wasn’t enforced. That follows KPCW’s reports of messages broadcast over loudspeakers, shown on classroom slides, and given to parents calling the schools saying kids didn’t have to wear masks if their parents didn’t want them to.

Later, three community members spoke to express general support of the board and Superintendent Jill Gildea. No one said students and staff should not wear masks.

Community member Jimmy May said the schools are open and kids are safe thanks to the board.    

"According to news reports, personnel actually actively prevented these rules from being implemented. These reports are false. They're a libel on all of you. An article in KPCW cites the utter confusion from the county health department. How can you guys be responsible for that confusion?"

Grady thanked commenters who expressed support, telling the public she is emotional about the issue and has a child in 5th grade at Parley's Park.

"To ever question the fact that I would not want every child in every school in this district, and every teacher safe is really hard for us to sit up here. I have had so many sleepless nights, as have all of us in the last two years to ensure the safety and health of our students. Yes, we are human. Yes, things are sometimes not perfect, but we are 110% have the best intent."

Three Park City schools are under a mask mandate: Parley’s Park Elementary, Trailside Elementary, and Ecker Hill Middle School.

KPCW reporter Carolyn Murray covers Summit and Wasatch County School Districts. She also reports on wildlife and environmental stories, along with breaking news. Carolyn has been in town since the mid ‘80s and raised two daughters in Park City.