PARK CITY (ABC4) – Parents and staff at Parley’s Park Elementary School are calling for accountability and transparency, after they say administrators failed to implement a mask mandate required by the Summit County Health Department. The agency requires schools to implement the mandate once they hit a two percent threshold of positive COVID-19 cases.
The whistleblower, Shannon Corcoran is a former school nurse at the elementary school who submitted her resignation 30 days ago. She explained that they have different categorizations for COVID-19 cases, depending on where students were exposed and the type of testing that was used. Guidelines from the county health department indicate which type to include in their positive case counts.
But Corcoran said Park City School District’s superintendent, Dr. Jill Gildea told her and the school principal over a phone call to not count certain cases once they were inching close to the threshold.
“We had it in writing from the health department that we should count probable cases, which are cases that were exposed at home. But once the school hit the threshold, the superintendent decided not to count probable cases anymore,” said Corcoran.
The concerns didn’t stop there for Corcoran. She said once the mask mandate was triggered for Parley’s Park Elementary School at the beginning of November and parents were notified, administrators failed to appropriately implement the policy.
“The messaging that went to teachers is that you cannot enforce the mandate. You cannot request your students to wear a mask. You simply have to encourage them to do what their parents say. I have a recording of the principal announcing this to students over the loudspeaker,'” she said.
Corcoran said the staff at the front office were instructed to tell parents asking about the mask mandate that it was simply “in effect” without further elaboration. But if parents complained, then they were to be told that their children does not have to wear a mask.
“That doesn’t fit the definition of a mask mandate. A mandate by definition requires that action be done,” she said. “We have to be protecting this population. My case counts are rapidly rising. I have eight cases in one classroom right now. To me, I have the power to protect these students. But it’s been taken away from me. Nobody should be left in the dark in terms of the health needs of their child.”
Nick Hill, who is a parent of a 2nd grader at Parley’s Park Elementary School said he had mixed feelings when he received communication from administrators that the mask mandate had been triggered. On one hand, he said he was concerned that case counts were going up at his child’s school. But he was also relieved that something was being done to keep students safe. However, he became alarmed when seeing non-compliance of the mask mandate while picking up his son from class.
“I counted how many people were wearing masks. There were 14 people there, 8 of them were not wearing masks, and 10 of them were crowded around a table together. So there were no distancing and there were no masks,” he said.
Shortly after, Hill said his family was notified that his son, who is at-risk, had been exposed to COVID at school. Ultimately, he made the decision to temporarily withdraw his child from class. He said administrators have not returned his messages expressing concern about the school’s COVID safety protocols.
“When you send your child to school, the school has a duty of care to that child and to every child there. I think what happened here was that duty of care was abdicated and I think that there needs to be accountability for that,” he said.
Corcoran performed her own survey and counted 150 out of 600 students who were not wearing masks. Last week, she said the county health department and school board were present at Parley’s Park Elementary School to ensure the mask mandate was being implemented after the fallout. Although the school is now in compliance with mask mandate, Hill said it’s not enough.
“There was a week when they should’ve had masks being worn by everyone, but there were not. There was a week when the virus was allowed to spread through that school and there’s an incubation period for that. So what we’re seeing now is the case rates going up every day,” he said. “What I want to see from them is honest accountability. I want them to take ownership. They are in leadership positions and that demands a level of communication that we’re just not seeing right now.”
Corcoran said she’s speaking out with hope that administrators will take action to repair trust between the school and community.
“All we wanted to do as nurses was afford parents and guardians enough information to make informed decisions day-to-day on whether or not they felt comfortable enough sending their students to school. If your school is not providing you with that information, you need to speak up for yourself,” she said. “This was the most vulnerable population that wasn’t eligible for vaccinations yet and we just kind of fed them to the wolves.”
Summit County Attorney Margaret Olson confirmed to ABC4 News that her office is now investigating the events of last week and looking into what led to non-compliance with the health department’s order of constraint. She said she learned of the non-enforcement issues on Thursday and has since spent time procuring compliance and working with district officials, who she said were cooperative.
“Now that compliance has been established, I am gathering primary source materials and trying to figure out what happened and why,” wrote Olson.
In a statement, Park City School District Superintendent Jill Gildea wrote:
“Parley’s Park Elementary School is the first elementary school in Summit County to have reached the 2 percent case count threshold trigger and to implement the Public Health Order 2021-01. The threshold triggers a 14-day mandatory mask mandate which is in place November 1-14, 2021 at the school. Families were appropriately noticed on October 29, 2021 that cases were approaching threshold and that the mandate would be implemented in the event of increased cases. On October 31, 2021, families were noticed that the mask mandate would be put into effect beginning November 1-14, 2021. Positive cases are reported based on COVID-19 Case Definitions and Case Counts outlined by CSTE, CDC, and the Utah Department of Health.
Our work together is to ensure that enforcement of the mandate is clearly understood and an additional communication was sent to parents and staff on November 7, 2021 outlining the enforcement measures that will take place within the elementary school setting in the event that there is non-compliance with the mandate for both students and staff.”Dr. Jill Gildea, Superintendent of Park City School District