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Parents speak out against school board

PARK CITY, Utah — The Park City School District (PCSD) board meeting on Tuesday concluded with a public comment section, allowing parents to speak openly about the recent confusion over the mask mandate at Parley’s Park Elementary School (PPES).

Lax enforcement during the first week of the mask order at PPES forced an investigation by the Summit County Health Department (SCHD). SCHD conducted four separate compliance visits at the school since November 8.

In a statement released on Monday, the PCSD said that PPES “has taken necessary measures with staff, students, parents, guardians, visitors, and the physical environment to ensure compliance with the Public Health Order.”

At the beginning of the meeting, the board provided an updated statement: “We think it is important to acknowledge that there have been some questions related to the public health order at Parley’s Park and the school’s initial response. While we acknowledge this and we are conducting a review of the process, we have been advised not to make any further comment, public comment on the matter. Please rest assured that we will continue to work closely with the state, county, and health department as we continue to prioritize health, safety, and open schools.”

Brad Asay, president of the Utah branch of the American Federation of Teachers, which has representation in the PCSD, started off the public comment period — “As a union, we are troubled by the recent events around the lack of enforcement of mask mandates by district administration. This is just one example of a systemic lack of transparency from the school district that our constituents have witnessed throughout this pandemic,” Asay said.

Board member Andrew Caplan immediately replied, saying, “the notion that is in the public and was reported on that we were not in compliance with the state/county health code is incorrect. And that is a fact. And that fact is backed up by the four inspections that were done by the county health department. So anyone that believes that we were in violation of the county mask mandate and that there was anything around that — that’s simply not factually correct.”

The board clarified that they were legally advised not to discuss the events before November 8 — the day that the county health department showed up at PPES to enforce the mask mandate, as there is an investigation currently underway regarding the events of that week.

One parent of a first-grader at PPES said, “the PC school district has lost the trust of many of us in the community, and I’d like to know the district’s plan moving forward on regaining our trust and also ask the board and superintendent to address the root cause of the mistakes made the week of November 1.”

Another parent described his personal experience picking his immunocompromised son up at PPES that first week — “I picked up my son at Parley’s and saw not even half the people there were masked. Thursday, I counted 14 people in the room, six of them masked, with no distancing. Friday, there were still children unmasked. A full week before compliance was confirmed with the virus left to run rampant through that school.”

Multiple other parents spoke with a similar tone, describing confusion and anger. Many were shocked by the incident precisely because of how well PCSD handled the pandemic last school year. Nearly everyone that spoke thanked the board for their service, and some acknowledged the difficulty of their roles.

A couple of people spoke directly in favor of the school board and Superintendent Jill Gildea.

The board said that they are currently working with the county on developing an accurate understanding of how cases are counted at the schools. They also expressed confidence in their ability to institute mandates at other district schools, should they cross the 2% case threshold that triggers the public health order.

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