TORRINGTON — The Goshen County School District approved a motion for K-12 mask mandates during a special meeting.
Community members packed into the Torrington High School auditorium to express their thoughts on the board’s proposal and hear the decisions during the meeting Thursday. All board members were in the auditorium except for Trustee Dylan Hager who attended via Zoom.
The board opened the meeting with three hours of public comment consisting of 48 members of the public.
Chairman Mark Jespersen advised every one of the five-minute time limit for each person as well as to be respectful and refrain from repetitive comments.
The majority of the speakers were parents, grandparents, and community members who opposed a mandate on masks.
A concern for many of the members was they did not believe the board members were representing the community who elected them.
Ashley Posten told the board it is up to them to carry out the views of the public.
“You are responsible to be our voice and to represent us,” Posten said. “Please do not cover our children’s beautiful faces.”
Julie Garza also felt the community was not being represented properly especially because the parents were not surveyed on the issue prior to the event.
“I ask you look at the parents and see what they want,” Garza said.
Kyle Kilty also asked the board to table the discussion and send out a survey to parents in order to gauge their feelings on the matter.
“This situation in particular seems to be very polarized and very heated,” Kilty said.
Some parents claimed the masks were ineffective and even damaging to their children physically and psychologically.
Andrielle Walsh said masks decrease children’s oxygen levels.
“It really is child abuse,” Walsh said.
Lynda Jones agreed and said there is more known about the virus this year than in 2020. Jones cited an article from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health about the health effects of masks.
“We know more [now] than when this all started,” Jones said.
Heather Arnusch said along with the ineffectiveness of masks, children also lose the ability to read facial expressions.
“Masks dehumanize us and serve as a constant reminder that we should be afraid,” Arnusch said.
State Sen. Cheri Steinmetz, R-Lingle, addressed the board and read the preamble of the constitution. Steinmetz said she and the board are supposed to govern by the consent of the governed. Steinmetz mentioned there are not mandates at the state or county level so there is no right for the school board to force it.
“We have made it abundantly clear as a state Legislature that the right lies with the parent,” Steinmetz said.
A few community members spoke in favor of masks including Heidi Edmunds, who called for everyone to pursue a greater understanding and to challenge each other. Edmunds argued masks are still effective.
“There is good reason to consider things that are not 100-percent effective,” Edmunds said.
Andrew Patrick, who is the son of Trustee Katherine Patrick, told the board to focus on facts and responsibilities. Patrick said vaccines are the most effective weapon against COVID but not kids under 12 cannot get it yet.
“Fortunately, the CDC gave us a second weapon and that is masks,” Patrick said.
Patrick believes a mask mandate helps to provide the best education for students.
Amy Lozano also spoke to the board in favor of the mask mandate. Lozano said to make the choice to keep the kids safe by mandating masks.