Motivated and organized group of parents demands end to mask mandates in schools

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It was a packed night at the Monday Board of Education meeting for the Kodiak Island Borough School District. Over the course of an hour, several dozen attendees aired their opposition to the mask mandate in schools. They spilled into overflow space in the hallway outside.

Some voiced their opposition to Covid-19 vaccines broadly, but the mask mandate in Kodiak schools was definitely the theme of the night. The mandate has been in effect since early August in Kodiak Schools.

Public commenters claimed masks impede learning, make depression worse and are simply unpleasant to wear.

The school board hasn’t given indication of interest in lifting the mask mandate. Judy Carstens, vice president of the school board, said that the board is basing its decisions specifically on the advice of the district’s Medical Advisory Board and state public health.

“In regards to the mandate, the safety of our students- and that’s not only the board’s main concern, but it’s also my main concern. The reason that I’m on the board is I care about the students, and the staff and the safety of it. And I understand that there’s those out there that have their same priorities for their students and their, their children, they would like it to be to be rescinded. And we all want to have it be rescinded,” Carstens said.  

Carstens also reiterated that the mask mandate was specifically in place to keep students safe. She says board members are also parents and grandparents, many with kids in the district. 

“And we have the same concerns, and the concerns is the safety of our students. And trust me, it would only take the loss of one child and it would devastate the whole community,” Carstens said.

The mask protest wasn’t spontaneous. It was organized. Jamie Fagan says he and a handful of people distributed information to a core group of around 40 or 50. He was a vocal critic of the COVID vaccine and masks in general from the early days of the pandemic. 

“I’m probably one of six or seven people that kind of got the ball rolling. But it’s like, there is no one leader. You don’t want to have just one leader because you might have to leave, go on vacation, or go fishing,” Fagan said.

Fagan says that the group is appealing directly to the school board, as opposed to the state or federal level medical institutions that they seek guidance from.

“We’re never going to change their recommendation, probably don’t have the chance of changing the state either. But we do have a chance of getting the local school board to stop the mandate. And so that’s where we’re going after, because that’s the only place where we think that we have a chance,” Fagan said.

While plenty of the public comments against the mask mandate are respectful, occasionally there are personal attacks against the school board or superintendent. Fagan acknowledges that some comments can get extreme, but says that the parents who attend these meetings take the mask mandate extremely seriously.

“I understand that maybe some people got a little bit, you know, a little bit hot. But the people are very passionate about this,” Fagan said.

This core group of parents angry about the mask mandate says it’ll continue to press on. But it appears the school board remains determined to keep masks a rule for everyone indoors for the foreseeable. 

Meanwhile, Kodiak officials have reported that — as of Wednesday afternoon — the community hovers around 50 active cases.

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