After a 2 1⁄2 hour meeting in the people-filled Forum Room, the R-P school board passed a resolution to “recommend” (not require) masks at a school and all events and activities; this leaves the decision on wearing a mask to the parents of each student. Any change to this policy will be made by the school board.
In addition, the board passed a separate resolution that parents would be notified when their child was in a close contact situation with another student who tested positive for COVID. The parents would then monitor their own child for any illness and be expected to take appropriate action. There will be no quarantine for close contact regardless of whether a student is vaccinated or not.
Both resolutions passed with a 5-2 roll call vote; Grindland, Helgemoe, Michel, Woxland, and Iverson voted yes, while Sawle and Prinsen voted no. Prinsen explained her vote saying, “I’m looking at this as a responsibility to all the children who can’t yet be vaccinated.”
Chairman Chris Grindland began the board meeting by carefully outlining the agenda. This topic was first on the agenda; the meeting was opened to public comment about the COVID back-to-school plan, after public comment was closed, the board discussed the topic and passed their resolutions. Following that, public comment on any other topic was allowed, and the rest of the board’s business was conducted. Grindland made it clear that everyone was to be respectful of others’ opinions, listen to each other, and make their comments to the board only. Overall the public followed his request; when someone strayed, Grindland brought the discussion back to the topic.
Prior to public comment, Superintendent Jon Thompson reviewed the current data for the county and school. He emphasized that everyone in the room wanted the students to be back at school safely. Thompson also explained that R-P had applied and received approval for online learning options. He pointed out that this year students who enroll in the online learning option would be fully online only and work separately from the in-person classes. Online high school and middle school students could opt to return to in-person at semester break; while elementary students would be able to switch more easily.
Stephanie Evenson, the school nurse, shared the recommendations for the safest in school situation — namely all students and staff wear masks, social distancing of at least three feet, and following of COVID prevention procedures in sanitizing. Evenson presented a flow chart for responses based on whether students were masked and vaccinated with different responses if they were not.
When public comment was opened, Rick Earnhardt spoke first. He asked if we were really protecting our children or abusing them by instilling fear and producing psychological problems. He also brought up the risk of illness from contaminated masks and quoted studies saying that mask wearing lowered oxygen rate, increased carbon dioxide levels and heart rate.
Patty Thompson shared her concern that masks muffled voices and pointed out how much Dr. Fauci had wavered on mask use the past year. A father shared that he had transferred his daughter to R-P from a private school last year and said she had been discriminated against for not wearing a mask at R-P. Tiffany Young opined that wearing masks has no scientific support and asked that the board “give them (the students) their childhood back.”
Chellsey Olson informed the board she has three children in her daycare currently with speech issues. She felt that young students needed to see the speaker’s face to determine words and comprehend. She advocated for a choice and called the mental impact of wearing masks detrimental.
Justin Rasmussen declared, “We masked our kids last year — now we are done!” He shared that he would not be sending his kids to R-P if masks were mandatory.
Danielle Rasmussen told of how her own children struggled last year for the first time. She shared that she felt isolation and resultant depression was more of a threat to family members when they were hospitalized for COVID earlier.
Marge O’Laughlin asked for equality in treatment of the students after close contact with a positive case, “I refuse for my child to be treated differently because of a decision her father and I made!”
Former R-P teacher Nancy Snyder shared several visuals of the current increased rate of infections in the county and her concern for the safety of all students, asking that masks be mandated. “The school motto is ‘Always Our Best’ — what is the best decision to keep all students in the building safe?” she asked.
Snyder asked the following questions: “If a student tests positive, is it mandated they stay home?” “Can students refuse testing?” “Can they refuse to stay home?”
Steve Hartwick cautioned the board that no individual was any more important than any other and asked the board to “dot their i’s and cross their t’s” to make sure they did not open themselves to future litigation.
Dana Thompson spoke in support of school nurse Stephanie Evenson as she thanked her for her work to provide a safe environment for R-P kids. She ended, “Trust Steph, trust the board.”
Another audience member urged masking, comparing it to other safety measures now mandated — seat belts, car seats, and helmets.
After the public comment and clarifying some facts with Supt. Thompson and Evenson, the board discussed wording of their resolution; some wanted to say masks were optional, some wanted to say they were strongly recommended. Ultimately, they compromised on “recommended.”
In regular business, the board:
•Set the truth in taxation meeting for December 20, 2021, at 6:15 p.m. in the Forum Room;
•Approved the superintendent submitting a petition to ask for two polling places (CRV and Rushford city halls) for the November board election;
•Set November 8, 2021, at 5:30 p.m. in the Forum to canvass baord election results;
•Heard that all homeschool families will be receiving a letter inviting their return to R-P in person;
•Added Houston schools to the current cross country program;
•Learned a new flagpole will be installed at the football field with the Legion contributing $2,500 toward it
The next R-P School Board meeting will be at 5:30 p.m., September 20, in the Forum Room.