After planning a special Lewiston School Board meeting Thursday to change COVID-19 protocols, Superintendent Bob Donaldson instead used his authority to roll back mask requirements in classrooms effective Tuesday.

The board agreed at a regular meeting Monday to discuss modifying the district’s face-covering protocol later in the week. While COVID-19 protocol was included in Monday’s agenda for a public comment period, it wasn’t listed as an action item.

Donaldson said he spoke with Board President Brad Rice on Tuesday morning and decided not to continue with the special meeting because, while those sessions are open to the public, they don’t allow for a public comment period. The board will hold a regular executive session at noon Thursday. Rice did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Calling it a special meeting, since they don’t have the opportunity for public input, would not be the best plan at this time,” Donaldson said. “We’re just going to go for it with green protocol and see how things unfold.”

The only change in mask policy is that students are strongly recommended, but not required, to wear them in indoor instructional settings.

The board unanimously passed a resolution back in October affirming Donaldson’s authority to make quick decisions regarding the pandemic without its approval. One week later, in November, Donaldson exercised that authority with a mandate requiring face coverings be worn at all times inside district buildings. Shortly after that, the city of Lewiston enacted its own mask mandate.

“Not long after the city took action, things have settled down quite a bit,” Donaldson said.

The requirement was issued amid rising COVID-19 cases in the hopes it would keep the district in its “green” phase of operation, which includes face-to-face instruction every day. The week the mandate went into effect, the district had reported 47 active cases of COVID-19.

When the school board discussed modifying the mask requirement Monday, many members were in favor of doing away with it altogether, citing low cases of COVID-19. On Tuesday, the district reported zero active cases.

“We look at the data every day to see what new cases we have,” Donaldson said. “We’ll continue to do that.”

According to the district’s opening plan, the “green” phase still requires staff and other adults to wear face coverings inside school buildings. Students are required to wear face coverings when entering or exiting school buildings, during transition times and in common areas, but are no longer required to wear masks in indoor instructional settings. Instead, face coverings are strongly recommended.

“All I did was withdraw my requirement,” Donaldson said. “It wasn’t based upon a court directive or any kind of action taken by the board of directors.”

The school district sent an email to parents and guardians Tuesday evening clarifying the updated protocol. Because of current trends, Donaldson stated the district would continue following protocol outlined in the “green” phase.

“Face coverings are strongly recommended (not required) for students in indoor instructional settings,” the email stated. “It remains the goal of the Independent School District No. 1 to continue to provide daily face to face instruction in a safe and healthy learning environment for all students.”

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