Wrangell cross country runners wear masks after finishing a race, September 2020.
(Sage Smiley / KSTK)

Alaska’s governing body for school sports clarified a portion of its mask mandate Friday after a change in the state health department’s recommendations, and public outcry from parents.

Listen to the story here.

The Alaska School Activities Association now recommends mask-wearing “when feasible” during practices and competitions. That’s a change from just days ago, when ASAA abruptly announced that masks should be worn at all times, even during vigorous physical activity. 

The association’s director Billy Strickland says ASAA made the change after the state Department of Health and Social Services updated its recommendation, not because of outside pressure. 

Strickland explained: “Now that their [DHSS’s] language is more in line with the CDC, we’re following suit. We still think wearing mask is a very important factor to consider. But we’re not going to require it as much as you know, recommended where it’s feasible.”

But some parents who were critical of the mask rule are declaring victory. An online petition against the mask mandate received more than 3,300 signatures in just a couple of days. The anonymous petition was circulated by an online user calling themselves “Parents of Alaskan Athletes.” 

The petition resonated with Penny Allen, a Wrangell parent and the middle school’s basketball coach. She commented, “I think parents feel like they have a win, you know what I mean? With their freedoms, and all of this stuff. But it is going back to a regular mask mandate like it was before, which a lot of parents still don’t even want it that strict.”

Strickland says ASAA is trying to walk the line between following federal and state guidelines, while still allowing student athletes to play sports. 

We think,” Strickland said, “wearing masks during interscholastic competitions where feasible gives us the best chance to have schools actually able to participate with other schools. We understand there’s some reluctance to do so. But I think I think having the strongest mitigations in place that we can do, gives us the most ability to see sports continue on.”

Earlier this month, ASAA cancelled the year’s remaining state competitions for all sports, and postpone sports seasons that hadn’t already started, due to a spike in COVID-19 cases in Alaska which is now seeing more than 200 new cases added almost every day. 

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