By Melinda Munson
Ordinance 20-16, which passed its second reading unanimously on Aug. 20, requires cloth face coverings in all municipal facilities, including Skagway City School when social distancing is not possible. Despite a push from some community members, the ordinance does not require face coverings in private businesses and non-municipality buildings.
The ordinance was proposed by Mayor Andrew Cremata.
“Again, I want to stress that this ordinance was drafted for one reason — liability. The school board is autonomous and should always remain so,” Cremata said.
The ordinance goes against school board wishes. In a letter dated Aug. 5, Superintendent Josh Coughran asked that the school be removed from the proposed language.
As passed, the new guideline requires that Skagway School athletes cover their nose and mouth during practices when within six feet of other individuals.
Nate Jennings, high school girls basketball coach, testified at the beginning of the meeting, asking the assembly to make an exception for after school athletics.
“I’m pro-mask but there’s got to be exceptions,” he said. Jennings pointed out that the Alaska School Activities Association (ASSA) provides a waiver and release that would protect the municipality from lawsuits.
“I highly recommend you guys add an amendment. We need to put the kids first,” Jennings said.
No other citizens present testified against the mask ordinance, but there were several letters from concerned citizens, asking for a mask exemption.
Assemblymember Orion Hanson took issue with Jenning’s perspective.
“I see major leaguers wearing masks playing center field,” Orion said, adding that there are “entire states not allowing kids in school.”
Hanson said the assembly needed to focus on “what’s good not only for the individual athlete but what’s good for the whole community.”
Both Hanson and Assemblymember Steve Burnham pointed out that the ASSA waiver was presented that day and had not been vetted by the municipality’s attorney.
“I don’t see how it protects the municipality itself,” Burnham said.
Superintendent Coughran is unaware of any other district in Southeast that requires masks during after school sports but he says the school’s response to the new mandate is “compliance.”
“One of the questions was whether or not it (Ordinance 20-16) was overreach. By the letter of the law, the municipality has the right to enact such a policy,” Coughran said. “Our Smart Start Program is right in line with everything that is in that ordinance,” he added.
Coughran hopes to work with the assembly and “find some middle ground.”