The public comment period at the regular Houston School Board meeting on August 19 brought a group of parents opposed to mandatory mask wearing at Houston Schools. Tara Klinski informed the board that neither they or any other governmental entity were coparenting her children and that their family would not be going back to masks. Klinski declared, “Our children are not shields for the elderly!” She also shared that a petition with 86 signatures after a day’s time had been written to oppose mandating masks.
Heidi Olson shared some research she’d found on the negative effects (chronic lung, asthma, etc.) of mask wearing on children. She also stressed the need for children to see facial expressions.
Ken Witt informed the board that he would not hesitate to make the choice to attend one of the surrounding schools which have gone to optional masks if Houston made them mandatory.
Ken Johnson, Jr. said his daughter had worn a shield last year because she was claustrophobic and was bullied as a result. He was upset that he as a parent might not be able to make the masking decision for his daughter.
When the board discussed the motion which was to have students and staff wear masks when the county rates were substantial or high and have masks “recommended” when rates were lower, board member Mimi Carlson pointed out that under last year’s COVID restrictions, the current high infection rate would have triggered distance learning. Now it would be the wearing of masks until rates came down and it would limit the amount of quarantining. She called it “the best way to keep our kids in school.”
Josh Norlien shared that he would not vote for this, citing the messages he’d received from the community against it. Richard Erdmann stated that he felt the school should stay with “recommended” mask wearing; he stressed that he did not want to go to distance learning.
Arlin Peterson shared that he had tried to fact check statements of both positions and found valid statements for both. Peterson felt that mandating masks would take a right away from those opposing masks.
The board members and Supt. Morem had received messages and calls both in support and against mandating masks. Ultimately, the board voted against the motion to mandate masks to begin the year. At this point masks will be “recommended” with parents having the choice on masking their children.
Superintendent Mary Morem shared a MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) between the school district and the RVEA concerning QComp and the changes to the Marzano evaluation of teachers for QComp. The state has already reviewed the MOU; the board will revisit it for approval at their next meeting.
Staffing changes have not yet been finalized; these will be discussed next month. The idea of Wednesday early-outs has not yet been decided on and has been receiving mixed reviews from parents and staff. The year will begin without early-outs.
Preschool mid-day busing to authorized daycares was discussed. Since such busing would result in an additional yearly expense of approximately $32,000, the board would have the option to charge a fee for such transportation. A fee of around $35 to $40 a month would be likely. Morem will put together a proposal for the next meeting and check on whether the buses would have enough required seatbelts for the students.
Handbooks for Summit, Houston High School, Houston Elementary School and coaching were approved with no discussion. The On-site Crisis Plan also received approval.
The Truth in Taxation meeting was set for December 2 at 6:30 p.m.; the regular board meeting will begin at 6 p.m., pause for the Truth in Taxation meeting, and resume after the meeting.
The next Houston School Board meeting will be September 2 at 6 p.m. in the high school media center and streamed online. The public is welcome to attend.