SHERIDAN — A report on a COVID-19 Plan for Sheridan County School District 2 to handle pandemic-related issues in the upcoming school year led to allegations of bullying at a school board meeting last week.
SCSD2 Superintendent Scott Stults updated the district board of trustees at its regular meeting Aug. 9, stating the COVID-19, formerly Smart Start, Plan, which outlines the district’s policy and guidelines in dealing with the pandemic, to start the 2021-22 school year was basically unchanged from the end of the previous year.
Unless conditions change, students and staff will be encouraged, but not required, to wear a mask while attending classes, as well as when being bused to and from school. However, SCSD2 students participating in athletics and other activities will be required to wear masks while on buses.
“No difference from what we did last year,” Stults said.
Also, according to the policy, individuals who test positive for the virus will isolate until they meet three requirements, including no fever for at least 24 hours without the help of any fever-reducer, symptoms have improved and it’s at least 10 days since symptoms first began.
In case of a close contact with an infected individual, a person will be required to isolate for 10 days or seven days after receiving a negative test result. Vaccinated persons, however, will not be required to quarantine if exposed to a positive case.
Despite the lack of a mask mandate, the policy drew the criticism of several concerned parents attending the board meeting.
“I do believe the decision to mask or not to mask should be left up to the parents,” said Nancy Stephens, who added she has two children attending one of the district’s elementary schools. “We do not co-parent with the school district. We are the parents.”
Another parent, Douglas Wheeler, said he supports Gov. Mark Gordon’s recent statement that he will not reinstate a mask mandate, despite an uptick in COVID cases related to the Delta variant.
“Gov. Gordon has said he wants nothing to do with masks. I’m in agreement with him,” Wheeler said. “These children have had such a hard time.”
State Rep. Mark Jennings, R-Sheridan, told board members any school districts requiring masks could be violating Wyoming’s Constitution, which states only a parent has the right to make decisions regarding a child’s health.
“I’d ask you to keep that in mind,” he said.
At least two parents who spoke at the meeting said their children had been bullied and harassed by other students and staff members over not wearing masks.
“Why is this allowed to happen?” said Tiffany Leimback. “This is not an isolated incident. This board is sitting there idle.”
Leimback added she first brought her concerns over possibly harassment of her son over the issue in April but has yet to receive a response from administrators.
Kandy Wheeler told board members she had similar concerns regarding previous incidents involving her children.
“It’s a severe problem in Sheridan and no one seems to be doing anything about it,” she said. “The public deserves an answer.
“Do you guys have a game plan for bullying?” she added.
Stults said such issues will be addressed immediately.
“We have zero tolerance for bullying,” Stults said. “For whatever reason, that’s unacceptable.
“Every child has the right to an education without the fear of being bullied or harassed,” he added.
According to Stults, any parent with concerns of bullying or harassment of a student should first bring the issue to the attention of their child’s teacher and, if necessary, to the building principal. If they aren’t satisfied with the response, he said a parent should then contact his office directly.
“I’m more than willing to support them. That’s my job,” he said. “One child being bullied is one too many. We take every one of these (complaints) seriously.”
While vowing to look into the concerns discussed at the meeting, Stults added he does not believe SCSD2 has a problem with students being harassed over not masking.
“Bullying is not a pervasive problem in this district,” he said.
Board members also asked parents to try to work with the school board and other district officials on addressing concerns over the COVID-19 Plan.
“Rather than be confrontational, let’s have some conversations,” Trustee Ann Perkins said to those at the Aug. 9 meeting.
“I hope you realize we’re not your enemy,” added Trustee Ed Fessler. “We’re trying to protect your children.”