Just days before their kids were set to return to classes at Peace Valley Charter School in Boise, Idaho, parents were notified about a major policy change: Students would no longer be required to wear masks, even as new infections began to overwhelm the state.
Weeks earlier, on Aug. 16, the school’s board had voted to mandate masks for all students and staff. The abrupt about-face came only after its governing council held a separate virtual meeting that featured several doctors, including a controversial pathologist who has spread misinformation around the safety of vaccines and the treatment of coronavirus.
Peace Valley Charter School was set to open its doors to masked students and teachers on Aug. 30, but that was derailed after the board invited Dr. Ryan Cole—a pathologist who was appointed to a district health board last month and has referred to coronavirus shots as a “fake vaccine”—to speak.
The Idaho Statesman first reported that parents were sent a notice informing them of the reversed policy.
The switch goes against recommendations from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which has urged masking for all students, staff and visitors to K-12 schools, amid the threat of the more contagious Delta variant and concerns over kids who are not yet eligible for vaccination getting sick.
Boise and Caldwell school districts in Idaho have reversed mask-optional policies, deciding to mandate masks last month amid a COVID spike in the state and what appears to be ongoing resistance to vaccination.
On Tuesday, state officials activated Idaho’s “crisis standards of care,” permitting beds to be rationed in hospitals in some public health districts, largely in the northern panhandle of the state.
Only roughly 40 percent of the state’s eligible population has been vaccinated—a number that drops to only 26 percent in Boise County, where the school is located, CDC data shows.
Peace Valley’s principal, Andrew Ross, had recommended at the Aug. 16 meeting that the board keep masks optional for its students—guidelines that he said could be adjusted if a mask mandate was reinstated in the city or for the county, according to the Statesman.
According to its website, as a measure to slow the spread of coronavirus, the school requires each student to submit a response to daily self-screening on COVID-19 symptoms before the start of school each day.
The selection of Cole to address the board came after he spoke at a conference in Texas in July hosted by the wacky pro-Trump group America’s Frontline Doctors, whose founder, Simone Gold, has advocated for hydroxychloroquine in treating COVID-19 and once claimed that pandemic-related lockdowns would kill more people than the coronavirus. The group has been widely cited in online communities that oppose vaccines.
“I don’t even like calling it a vaccine—an investigational vaccine,” Cole said at the July 27 event.
“The clot shot, needle rape, whatever you want to call it,” he continued, before insisting that the vaccine causes disease.
“Why are we injecting something into the human body that is the toxin, it is the toxin, it causes the disease, this isn’t a vaccine,” he said.
The Idaho Press also previously reported that Cole touted the anti-parasitic drug ivermectin at a forum in March hosted by Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin. The drug has been popularized in conspiracy theorist circles as a treatment for the virus, despite cautioning from health officials and the Food and Drug Administration.
According to the Statesman, the meeting—which led directly to the reversal of the mask requirement—also invited input from the mask-resistant community.
In addition to CDC documents, board members were given packets with anti-masking documents including one titled “Exclusive: Chemical cocktail found in face masks” and “COVID-19 Masks Are a Crime Against Humanity and Child Abuse,” the outlet said.
When asked about the invitation of figures who have been known to spread dubious information about COVID-19 to board meetings where mask mandates are being debated, Chief Communications and Legislative Affairs Officer for the state’s Board of Education, Mike Keckler, declined to comment specifically, but told The Daily Beast that it was “important to have credible information with regard to these decisions.”
In an email to The Daily Beast on Wednesday, Ross said: “We have been in session for about a week and a half. At this time, I do not have any additional comments as we are just getting into the beginning of this school year.”
Ross said during the meeting that he had heeded a call from the board to hear additional voices on the issue, and members of the community had recommended Cole and a clinical psychologist, Carol Low, who also opposes mask mandates. Others, including Dr. Jim Souza and Dr. Kenneth Bramwell from St. Luke’s, in addition to Dr. David Peterman from Primary Health, had also been recommended by the community, and were contacted, Ross told the Statesman. Another expert, who had also been recommended, submitted a letter in favor of universal masking, the outlet reported.
“Children do fantastically against this virus,” Cole said during the virtual meeting, in spite of growing evidence that the Delta variant has been sending children to hospitals.
Cole did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment on Wednesday.
In a recent CDC study, experts found that rates of COVID-related hospitalizations for kids had increased following the rise of the Delta variant in the United States.
Earlier this week, several school districts in the state faced temporary closures due to COVID-19 cases—at times lacking enough substitutes to step in for absent teachers who had tested positive for the virus.
Keckler said that of the state’s 115 school districts “many of them aren't experiencing any of what we’re seeing in terms of an uptick in coronavirus cases.”
“A one-size fit all approach really doesn’t work without affecting a lot of districts that would not need to consider such a thing as a mask mandate,” he said.