The Gilbert Public Schools governing board voted April 22 to keep its current face mask policy in place through the end of the 2020-21 school year.

That means the policy, which requires anyone inside GPS facilities to be wearing a face covering, will expire May 28 as a result of the board’s unanimous vote. The policy allows for mask removal when doing outdoor activities.

The action came at a special board meeting held after Gov. Doug Ducey rescinded April 19 a previous executive order mandating schools and districts to have mask policies.

At least two board members favored ending the mask mandate immediately and moving to a “recommend and encourage” policy, but Reed Carr’s motion for that move failed on a 3-2 vote with Carr and Lori Wood voting for it. Both said they felt the mitigation strategy had allowed the district to achieve the aim of containing the spread of the coronavirus and that it was time to move forward.

“If not now, when?” Wood said.

Afterward, the board quickly built consensus around letting the policy expire May 28.

Board members Jill Humpherys, who made the motion, Sheila Uggetti and President Charles Santa Cruz urged the district to stay cautious as the district approaches the finish line for the pandemic. Board members wanted the district to return to school in the fall without mitigation strategies needed.

Superintendent Shane McCord said some events, like graduation, would have their own COVID-19 protocols in place.

Board members said feedback they received since Ducey’s announcement had been evenly split between wanting the policy kept in place or having it removed.

During the meeting’s public comment period, most speakers favored keeping it in place, but those opposed received a smattering of applause after their comments.

Those who wanted the mask policy to stay said they hoped it would be at least through the end of the school year while allowing more people to be vaccinated. Those opposed cited parental choice and questioned the efficacy of masks. Some traced GPS’ recent layoff of 152 teachers to the district’s decisions on in-person vs. remote learning, and people from both sides suggested the board’s decision would mean more students leaving or not returning.