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School District’s enforcement of mask mandate questioned

Summit County Health Department says it will continue to monitor compliance at Parley’s Park Elementary School

Parley's Park Elementary School.
David Jackson/Park Record

The Park City School District is facing criticism from parents who are concerned officials were not strictly enforcing the county-imposed mask mandate at Parley’s Park Elementary School.

An online petition urging the district to “implement the universal masking requirement as outlined” in a health order issued by Summit County had gained more than 400 signatures as of Monday evening. The petition cited a report from KPCW that indicated Superintendent Jill Gildea told the Park City Education Association, the union that represents most teachers in Park City, that the mandate was unenforceable.

In a letter to parents on Sunday, Gildea sought to clarify the district’s position on the mandate, saying that all students and staff members are expected to comply with the requirement. She said the district can take steps to administer the mandate such as reminding students that they must wear a mask or having the parent of a non-compliant student pick them up from school. The district cannot physically force a student to wear a mask, she said.



Kim Howe, the principal of Parley’s Park Elementary School, also wrote a letter to parents Sunday, apologizing for her messaging surrounding the mandate last week, which she said was “misunderstood to be that we do not support the mask mandate or I am not willing to do what it takes to protect our students.”

Gildea seemed to indicate in her letter that Howe’s messaging regarding the mandate stemmed from Gildea using the term “parental choice” in a discussion with Howe about the requirement. She said she failed to make clear to Howe that she was referring specifically to “allowable exemptions” to the requirement.



Howe told parents that her initial messaging created “confusion and contention.”

“After receiving additional clarification and redirection on Thursday evening from Dr. Gildea, I immediately changed my messaging to our students as instructed,” she said in the letter.

According to a statement from the Summit County Health Department, health officials conducted an on-site inspection at Parley’s Park on Monday after receiving reports last week that the mask order was not being followed. No violations were discovered.

“Health Department staff will continue to evaluate Parley’s Park Elementary School for compliance with the Face-covering order while (it) remains effective,” the statement said.

Mary Morgan, co-president of the Park City Education Association, said district officials were at Parley’s Park on Monday, ensuring teachers, students and parents understand what is required under the mandate.

“There’s definitely things that could have been done a little better last week,” she said. “But I think the district … (is) wanting to move forward in a positive direction.”

Additionally, the education association’s leadership met with district administrators and members of the Park City Board of Education on Monday to discuss the implementation of the mandate. Morgan said there was “miscommunication” prior to Monday but that it had been resolved, characterizing the situation as a “learning experience for everybody involved.”

“The rule is everyone wears a mask,” she said.

The mandate was implemented Nov. 1 under a county health order issued in August that stipulates that masks be temporarily required at any Summit County elementary, middle or junior high school that has 2% of its student and staff population test positive for COVID-19 within a two-week period.

Parley’s Park is the first school in the county to hit that threshold this academic year. As of Monday, the school had 18 confirmed cases within the last 14 days, approximately 3% of its population, according to a case count published on the school’s website.

Health Department officials will review the mandate Nov. 14. The requirement will be lifted if the school is under the 2% threshold for the previous 14 days or extended if the school is over the threshold.

Update: The Park City Education Association and School District issued a joint statement Tuesday evening regarding the mask mandate:

“PCEA Leadership Mary Morgan, Jake Jobe, and Phil Nigohosian met with District Administration Dr. Gildea and Dr. Sorenson along with Park City School Board Leadership, Erin Grady and Wendy Crossland to discuss the mask mandate at Parley’s Park Elementary. A conversation ensued in which all parties felt heard and respected.

“In addition, Summit County Health, District Admin, and Board members were at Parley’s on Monday to support teachers and students, help cover shortages where needed, and ensure the mask mandate was being properly implemented. At any time the mask mandate needs to be implemented in the future, there is a clear plan in place and the expectation is that all students and staff will comply with the order. PCEA would like to thank our District Administrators and the Park City School District Board members for meeting today. All parties are encouraged and will continue to work together to ensure we have another safe and successful year.”

 


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