School board passes measures for universal masking policy

Published 10:09 pm Monday, September 20, 2021

The Albert Lea school board voted 4-2 to pass parameters pertaining to the district’s new universal masking policy. 

Under the new guidelines, the district will remain with a universal masking policy until the Freeborn County COVID-19 daily case rates, provided by the University of Minnesota School of Public Health, drop below 150 cases per 100,000 people for seven consecutive days. If, after the masking mandate has been lifted, the county’s daily case rate rises above the 150 per 100,000 threshold, the superintendent will direct the district to resume universal masking for all kindergarten through 12th-grade students and staff. 

Freeborn County currently sits at 416, according to data shown by Superintendent Mike Funk at the meeting. 

Board member Jill Marin questioned why the resolution was needed after the board voted to give the superintendent the decisions in these matters at a meeting in August. Funk said he has heard loud and clear from the community that they want the board to have a vote in this matter, and the resolution allowed them to do that.

“As a board, we’ve discussed in the past about whether things are operational, whether they’re not. Do we vote on them, do we not?” Marin said. “In my opinion, this is not operational, this is board jurisdiction. I have a concern when we use it when it’s convenient.”

Board member Angie Hoffman raised some concerns she had with the universal masking requirements as well. Hoffman said her main concern was the assumption that masks can only help and not hurt. According to Hoffman, masks not only can have negative physical effects, but also on emotional health.

“Some people really do struggle with depression and isolation and anxiety from masking,” Hoffman said. “I think we need to find a balance where we don’t want to, we obviously don’t want to lose anybody in our distinct or community from COVID, but we also don’t want to, in my opinion, overreact in one area that might cause more harm in a different area.”

Board member Bruce Olson shared his reasoning for supporting the resolution.

“I think my job as a board member right now is to keep the kids in school,” said board member Bruce Olson. “If that means wearing masks, and masks are going to help do that, I’m all for it. 

“I’ve got three grandkids in the system and I asked them, ‘Do you mind wearing a mask? Do you and your friends mind wearing the mask?’ And they sai,  ‘Not if it will keep us in school. We don’t like distance learning. We don’t like hybrid learning. We want to be in school, with a teacher in front of us, next to our friends.”

In the end, the motion passed 4-2 with Marin and Hoffman being the two dissenting votes. Board chair Dave Klatt was absent from the meeting and did not have a vote. 

“I agree that the resolution is perhaps somewhat redundant, but we’ve accepted, voted and approved other resolutions that were also somewhat redundant, all in the interest of accommodating the public who would like to see the board take more affirmative control of the direction of the district,” said board member Neal Skaar. 

Skaar also said the motion reasserts the arrangement in which administration makes the decisions when they need to be made. 

 

In other action, the board: 

  • Heard from five members of the public in the open forum portion. Fifteen members of the public signed up to speak, but due to board policy, only five, or up to 10 minutes of meeting time, were allowed to speak. 

Marin motioned to let another 10 minutes of speakers present to the board. The board went into a 10-minute recess in an attempt to regain control of the room after some members of the public tried to argue with the policy. After resuming the meeting after the recess, the motion to allow for more speakers was voted down 2-4, with Marin and Hoffman being the two approving votes.

  • Voted 6-0 to approve the adoption of the proposed 2021 pay 2022 certified levy at maximum.

In doing this, if the vote to renew the referendum is successful in the November elections, the district can levy for the highest amount. 

“We always ask that we approve at the maximum,” Walsh said. “Usually there are no changes, but in the case of a vote, if we don’t approve at maximum we would not be able to levy for that referendum amount.”

By approving the maximum amount, Funk said the board is essentially approving a 0% increase if the referendum passes.

The final certification of the levy will be at the Dec. 6 school board meeting.

  • Voted 6-0 to approve paying the Minnesota State High School League dues, which were just under $17,000. According to Funk, league dues were about $4,000 two years ago.

The dues included the $9,000 COVID-19 fees from the 2020 school year, which the district voted against paying. The league added new language to their bylaws stating that any member schools with unpaid dues would be removed from the league, meaning all of the district’s sports and fine arts would not be allowed to compete. 

  • Heard the first reading of policy revisions to the wellness policy from executive director of finance and operations, Jennifer Walsh, as well as the student medication policy from director of special education, Sheila Riebe. 
  • Voted 6-0 to approve an agreement between Albert Lea and NRHEG schools to allow NRHEG students to participate on the Albert Lea dance team.

About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

email author More by Tyler