Masks will soon be optional in Juneau schools

Thunder Mountain High School seniors Kafoa Maka and Ammon Kawakami watch students head to lunch on the first day of school on Monday, August 16, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)
Thunder Mountain High School seniors Kafoa Maka and Ammon Kawakami watch students head to lunch on the first day of school on Monday, August 16, 2021, in Juneau, Alaska. (Photo by Rashah McChesney/KTOO)

Masks will be optional in Juneau School District buildings and on schools grounds starting on April 4. 

The district has required masks for the entire school year so far. But then the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its mask-wearing recommendations, and the city lifted its mask mandate. That prompted the school district to send out a survey to families, school staff and students about whether they want to keep masks. 

Juneau School District Superintendent Bridget Weiss went over the results at a Board of Education meeting on March 8. 

Weiss said that according to the survey, students at both high schools were about half for and half against requiring masks. But student representatives at the meeting said that most students they talked to want to keep masks, especially students in their third and fourth years. 

Jowielle Corpuz is a student representative for Juneau-Douglas High School: Yadaa.at Kalé.

“It’s just that we are all excited for prom and we’re all excited for graduation. So if we had a sudden rise in cases, and prom has to be canceled because the masks being abolished, that’s not what we want,” Corpuz said. “We want prom, we want graduation, we want all the celebrations that we can have since we are in our final years of high school.”

Weiss said the survey indicated that 48% of school staff said yes, 22% said maybe and 30% said no to making masks optional. For families, 65% said yes, 10% said maybe and 25% said no.

The board held a second meeting on March 10 to make the final decision.

Most people who testified to the board meetings on March 8 and 10 wanted to end the mask mandate. 

Those people argued that most masks don’t protect people from getting the virus, that not seeing people’s faces is preventing small children from learning. They said that masking should be a choice. 

Maureen Hall is a school nurse at Harborview Elementary. She said she supports removing masks because the omicron variant is less severe than the delta variant. She also said people should consider how to protect children who can’t get the vaccine and high-risk children.

Christopher Coutu said too much voice is given to the minority of the population who want to keep masks.

“You’ve got super majorities of parents as well as staff that want to change the current mask policies,” Coutu said. “And with those who are still fearful in that percentage, there are masks that protect, that can protect them. And that’s the N95 masks.”

A few people called in asking the board to keep masks.

Some said it was too early to remove masks and that the board should make their decision based on public health guidance – not on parent and staff opinions. 

Another supporter of masks, Anne Stepetin, said that mask-wearing shouldn’t only be about protecting yourself. 

“I understand where other parents are coming from saying making an optional would still allow students to use their masks as they please. I come from a culture where we take care of each other and our masks, our mask wearing is about protecting others,” Stepetin said.

The board unanimously voted to end the mask mandate in schools. The new policy is linked to Juneau’s community level and to CDC guidelines. Masks will remain optional in schools if Juneau is at a medium or low risk level.

Lyndsey Brollini

Local News Reporter

I bring voices to my stories that have been historically underserved and underrepresented in news. I look at stories through a solutions-focused lens with a goal to benefit the community of Juneau and the state of Alaska.

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