Masks not required; school board ready to deal with potential COVID outbreak

With legitimate concerns about the Delta variant and what it might mean for this school year, members of the District No. 2904 School Board on Monday formally made the decision to deal with the aftermath of another potential outbreak themselves, as opposed to having the district create a special team to deal with it.

The board earlier this summer approved the 2021-22 back-to-school plan, and since then Supt. Chad Anderson said he has had numerous parents on both sides of the mask-or-no-mask fence talk to him about the district’s pandemic plan.

“I respectfully listened to everyone, and I’ve learned a lot, and I appreciate everyone visiting with me,” Anderson said. “I think as we go through and talk about our options, we need to be mindful that there are people on both sides that have legitimate rationale for things. It’s not a one-size-fits-all, and we’re not alone in this.”

The basic principles of the district’s plan are that face coverings for students and staff are recommended but will not be required, at least at the start of the school year. Masks will be required on all transportation offered by the district, per an Executive Order signed by President Joe Biden.

Vaccinations will not be required; to date, 75% of the district’s staff has been vaccinated. Also, self-screening will be encouraged for all students and staff, and the district is required to report any COVID-19 cases to the Minnesota Department of Health. Close contacts will not be required to quarantine if they are not showing any symptoms. Those who do test positive will be required in quarantine following MDH guidelines. The district’s guidance are recommendations, as the Minnesota Department of Education has left the decisions up to local school boards.

Last year, the district created a Rapid Response Team to deal with the ever-changing rules and regulations surrounding the pandemic. It was made clear at Monday’s meeting that decisions this year should be left up to the school board itself, not a splinter committee.

“The area is grayer than it was a year ago and nowhere near as defined as it was,” board Chair Rod Benson said.

Board member Ben Ludeman said the buck should stop with the board this school year.

“It’s a very polarizing topic,” Ludeman said. “There’s a lot of passion and perspective on both sides — no disrespect to either side — I think any changes (to the plan) should be up to the board; we will take the heat from that other side. The public is not afraid to voice their opinion. I wouldn’t be willing to take the heat if I didn’t have a voice.”

After a motion by board member Jay Fultz and a second by board member Sheila Siebenahler-Holland, the board eventually approved the back-to-school plan, with consideration to Monday’s discussion about the board’s autonomy.

“Last year we had kids all year except they had to wear masks, and this year we have the option of choosing to wear masks or not wear masks, and I’ve heard from people on both sides of the issue and they all have good points,” Anderson said. “The only thing that I can do is listen to everyone’s thoughts, listen to science, listen to the community.”

Anderson stressed Monday that the district’s plan could be a fluid one, much as it was in 2020. But any decisions that are made, he added, are in the best interest of the students and staff.

“There’s so much division, cognitive dissonance on the issues, and that’s fine, but I just hope that we can respect everybody’s viewpoints and move forward,” Anderson said. “I don’t want to see parent against parent, child against child, teacher against teacher, and it’s there. That’s why we have this board of education, to make these decisions. I hope people can, even if they disagree, can just get along.”

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.