School Board Meeting Oct. 20

Elaine Jahnke, Kirby Anderson, Matthew Lemke and Melanie Cole at the Oct. 20 school board meeting. 

The school board hosted a special meeting on the morning of Oct. 20. at 7:15 a.m.

During the meeting, the school board adopted the motion to discontinue the mask mandate effective Friday, Oct. 22.

Transmission is certainly occurring in schools, with 103 cases reported so far this year as compared to eight cases around this time last year. Despite the current rise in cases, staffing struggles, and local hospitals such as Perham Health and Lake Region Healthcare reporting feeling strained, the school board voted to end the mask mandate and discuss other mitigation options at their regularly scheduled school board meeting on Monday, Oct. 25 at 5:15 p.m.

At that time, the school board will discuss other mitigation possibilities, such as temperature checks and varying protocol options for classrooms that have three or more confirmed cases within seven days.

The discontinued mask mandate, put in place on Oct. 11, took on more of a “symbolic” meaning, with a large number of students not complying with the mandate and no disciplinary action for non-compliance enforced. No student was forced to wear a mask, as it may have been seen as “combative” and could have fractured valuable relationships between the school and families.

“I hope that the general public realizes we’re trying to — as every other district in the state — trying to navigate this the best that we can,” stated Superintendent Jeff Drake during the meeting.

Multiple school board members expressed their support for Drake for guiding the school through a very difficult time and reiterated that the superintendent and the board continue to keep the best interest of students in mind.

School board chair Melanie Cole expressed her thoughts about the “single issue” response from the public, noting that the attendance at the Oct. 11 meeting exceeded the cumulative tally of nineteen years of school board meeting attendance in one night.

“We’ve tackled many issues with much more gravity than masking,” she explained, “and yet, we get no involvement.”

The morning meeting had far fewer attendees than the Oct. 11 meeting, further shining the spotlight on the usual low attendance even when other notable and important topics are being discussed and voted on.

“So, to my point, this is your school. This is our school. Together,” she said. “So, showing up over six and a half days of masking seems trite to me.”

She reiterated the school board’s hard work, commitment, transparency, the fact that every school board meeting is open to the public and encouraged the community to stay involved.

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