IDAHO FALLS – With just two known active cases of COVID-19 in a school district of more than 10,000 students, tempers flared Tuesday during an Idaho Falls District 91 work session. Board member Paul Haacke advocated for rescinding the mask order for students, citing surrounding districts that have successfully eased restrictions on student face coverings without a corresponding spike in COVID-19 cases.
Board chair Lara Hill dismissed mask-easing recommendations from Eastern Idaho Public Health — recommendations cited by Haacke — because it’s made up mostly of county commissioners. Hill, who late last year advocated following EIPH’s guidance, justified her dismissal of the health board by pointing out that the lone doctor on the board voted against lifting mask restrictions.
School board member Elizabeth Cogliati repeatedly interrupted Haacke, appeared to hyperventilate at one point, and emotionally dismissed out of hand a reference to Madison County where students have returned to school and are staying mostly mask and COVID-19 free.
“So how does Madison have school five days a week and not have masks — and not have Covid?” asked Haacke.
“You know what? I don’t know, Paul. I don’t know. And frankly I don’t particularly care,” Cogliati responded. “I want to make a decision for District 91 in Idaho Falls.”
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When Hill raised the prospect of putting kids back in quarantine, Haacke asked how many of the district’s hundreds of quarantined students ended up getting sick. Hill replied, “That’s not the point, Paul.”
Haacke pressed the question again. Hill conceded that only “four or five” quarantined students ended up becoming ill. Currently two students — one each at both Skyline and Idaho Falls High School — out of more than 10,000 students in District 91 are known to be ill with COVID-19.
In the end Haacke was the lone board member voting to ease mask restrictions.
Both Cogliati and Hill are facing recall elections in the coming weeks, the result of an effort started last year by patrons unhappy with the board members’ handling of the district’s pandemic-related policies.
On Wednesday, attorney Bryan Zollinger, who represents a group of patrons advocating the recall, was a guest with Neal Larson and Julie Mason and discussed the final approval of signatures — which required a judge’s intervention due to a technical error during signature gathering. Zollinger’s interview can be heard in the last half of the video above.