The board voted 4-1 for removal at a special board meeting to consider changes after Gov. Doug Ducey on April 19 rescinded his executive order from July requiring schools to have such a policy. Board President Kristina Reese was the dissenting vote.
In communication to families after the meeting, the district recommended the continued use of face coverings and said all other mitigation strategies, including daily health checks, remain in place.
The district recommended to the board changing its policy from requiring a mask on district property to requiring it indoors and recommending it for outdoor activity. It also would have removed the requirement to wear one at bus stops. Officials proposed that policy run through May 31, after which the mandate would expire.
Reese moved to adopt that proposal, but Board Member Tiffany Shultz quickly moved to amend it to remove the mandate immediately.
Board Member Michelle Anderson, a teacher in the Queen Creek Unified School District, said she has seen the harmful effects of masks on children and the positive effects of removing them. She said she does not require a mask or wear one in her classroom.
“I would be a hypocrite to not wear one in my classroom and then require it,” she said.
Shultz said she respected those who continue to wear a mask but believes people should have a choice. Board Member Jill Wilson, as she did when the district considered remote vs. in-person learning, urged people to make the choice that was best for their family and respect others’ choices and be kind about it.
Reese and Board Member Amy Kaylor said they were torn about what was best to do.
“In my humblest of humble opinions, our children need to end Higley on a high note,” Kaylor said. “And they need to be free.”
District Nurse Jillian Fulton told the board that families putting their children in in-person instruction had agreed to follow the district’s mitigation strategies, including mask wearing, through the end of the school year.
Fulton said the district was concerned about changing the policy late in the year and said masks allowed the district to differentiate between primary and secondary exposures to COVID-19. She said without such a distinction, whole classrooms may have to quarantine if there is an exposure, something that had been avoided with mask wearing.
Reese said she was concerned what would happen with Advanced Placement testing, finals and end-of-year events if the mandate was removed now and classrooms ended up quarantining.
Associate Superintendent Dawn Foley said the district could better remove masks June 1, allowing summer school to be a small trial of not requiring mask wearing.
Board members said they received much email since Ducey rescinded his previous executive order, much of it split and heartfelt on both sides. However, the public comment period of the meeting weighed heavily toward removing the mandate.