Board says no to mask mandate for Higley USD

Higley USD protesters
Protesters gathered outside the Higley USD office before the Aug. 19 special meeting to stand reinstituting a face covering policy. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Protesters gathered outside the Higley USD office before the Aug. 19 special meeting to stand reinstituting a face covering policy. (Tom Blodgett/Community Impact Newspaper)

Higley USD will continue to hold school without a face covering policy after a special governing board meeting Aug. 19.

However, board members pleaded with district families to keep sick children and those awaiting COVID-19 test results home. They further asked people to be kind to others who make decisions different than their own.

After a raucous public comment period, with most speakers opposing a mask mandate, President Kristina Reese’s motion to reinstate last year’s face covering policy failed for a lack of a second.

Reese, however, said she made the motion as a formality because the item was on the agenda and she had not decided when she made the motion whether to support or vote against it.

Reese said the district continues to hear from teachers who had children pulled from class because their COVID-19 test results came back positive, though the district has consistently asked parents to keep children home when they are awaiting test results.

“That is irresponsible,” Reese said.

Reese and Board Member Tiffany Shultz asked that parents keep children awaiting test results home to limit other students from possible exposure and help keep the schools open.

Vice President Jill Wilson re-read a statement she had given twice previously at board meetings affirming parents making the best decisions for their family and asking for everyone to respect differing decisions.

“Please continue to be kind and show your kids that kindness matters,” she said.

The board meeting was called Aug. 16 after a judge ruled in a case involving the Phoenix Union High School District, which is requiring masks, that a new state law against such mandates could not take effect until Sept. 29.

The Higley USD proposal was to reinstate the face covering policy effective Aug. 23 until Sept. 29.

The district cited the rising number of cases, largely attributed by officials to the COVID-19 Delta variant, within the district as reason to have a conversation about a mask policy.

HUSD had 567 positive cases during the 2020-21 school year, but in less than four weeks of instruction for the 2021-22 school year, it already has had 258 cases, according to the district.

The district implemented a face covering policy last August when Gov. Doug Ducey required all school districts in the state to have one by executive order. He lifted that mandate in April, and the HUSD governing board voted 4-1 at its next meeting to lift the mandate.

After the Aug. 16 judge’s ruling, Ducey implemented a grant program for districts and charter schools that stay with in-person instruction all school year and that follow all state laws, specifically to not have a mask or vaccine mandate for in-person instruction.

HUSD Chief Financial Officer Tyler Moore said the district would be eligible for $8.4 million in additional funding if it met the terms of the grant.

However, Reese noted that it is out of the district’s control whether it stays in person as the Maricopa County Department of Public Health can order the district to close a school because of an outbreak. Moore acknowledged that was true.

After the motion failed to gain a second, Reese said the governor’s grant program played no part in her decision.
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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