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NIC board rescinds mask mandate

by KAYE THORNBRUGH
Staff Writer | August 27, 2021 1:09 AM

COEUR d’ALENE — The North Idaho College Board of Trustees voted in a special meeting Thursday afternoon to rescind the college’s mask mandate.

NIC President Rick MacLennan announced the mandate last week, requiring students, staff and visitors to wear double-layer face coverings at all times while inside college buildings when two or more people are present.

The measure took effect Monday, the first day of classes for NIC’s fall semester.

Trustees Greg McKenzie and Michael Barnes voted in favor of rescinding the mask mandate, while Trustees Ken Howard and Christie Wood voted against the motion.

Chair Todd Banducci broke the tie, voting to rescind the mandate.

Banducci said the board had to address the mask mandate quickly so students can make an informed decision about whether they want to attend NIC for the fall semester.

The last day to withdraw from courses is Sunday.

“We’ve got people waiting to see how this meeting unfolded,” Banducci said. “It’s critical.”

Trustee Howard criticized Banducci’s decision not to allow public comment at the meeting, as well as the limited opportunity for board members to review proposed changes to the mask policy.

“What we’ve done with this process tonight is to attempt to ram through language that nobody else gets an opportunity to review,” he said.

MacLennan said NIC administration implemented the mandate due to rising COVID-19 cases and reports of capacity concerns at Kootenai Health, where a classroom has been converted to a care room for up to 22 patients.

During Thursday’s meeting, he said a vote to rescind the mask mandate sends a message to the college community that some trustees do not prioritize the health and well-being of students and staff.

“People may die as a result of this,” he said.

In a separate matter, trustees ultimately tabled a vote on whether to renew MacLennan’s contract.

As president, MacLennan is hired by the board of trustees and his contract depends on board approval.

The board reviews the three-year NIC president contract on an annual basis.

McKenzie moved to break for a special session to discuss the matter.

The board voted 3-2 in favor of the motion, with Howard and Wood opposed.

However, a two-thirds majority — four out of five trustees — is required in order to enter a special session.

After the motion failed, Wood moved to renew MacLennan’s contract.

“I certainly think Dr. MacLennan has earned the trust of this board,” she said, noting that MacLennan is the longest-serving president among Idaho’s community colleges.

NIC faculty and staff members passed a joint resolution in support of MacLennan this week, calling him “a champion of educational opportunity and an ambassador for entrepreneurship in North Idaho.”

The resolution called on the board to renew MacLennan’s contract.

McKenzie moved to table Wood’s motion until the board’s next meeting, currently scheduled for next Tuesday.

The board voted 3-2 to table the discussion, again with Howard and Wood opposed.

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