St. Paul refuses to drop mask mandate for students

Since the end of January, there have been one to two reported COVID-19 cases each day across the district.

The St. Paul Public Schools Board of Education met on Tuesday, March 22 (St. Paul Public Schools).

St. Paul Public Schools voted this week against a resolution that would make masks optional for students and faculty.

St. Paul is one of a few school districts in the state to still have a mask mandate in place — Minneapolis Public Schools is another district that has yet to drop its mandate. Nationally, liberal strongholds like New York City and Portland have dropped their mask mandates for schools.

In a Tuesday SPPS board meeting, a vote of 3-2 against the resolution came after extensive public comment on the matter — by and large in favor of abandoning the mandate — and discussion between school board members who raised concerns about optional masking.

Had the resolution passed, it would have allowed for dropping the mask mandate when county cases and transmission remain low. Since the end of January, there have been one to two reported COVID-19 cases each day across the district, according to director of health and wellness for the district, Mary Langworthy.

According to Langworthy, the resolution would have created an “adaptable” system in which masks would be optional until cases surge, and then a mandate could be put in place again without the need for another vote from the school board.

This raised concern from board member Chauntyll Allen, who was against the resolution because of the possible lapse in time between high cases and the implementation of masks, if they were to be mandated again. She said data would be weeks old when it was assessed, and if masks were deemed necessary again, a surge could already be happening.

Board member Uriah Ward expressed concern that repealing the mask mandate would “disproportionately, adversely impact” BIPOC students, due to the vaccination status of white students when compared to other racial groups which are vaccinated at a lower rate.

But the majority of public commenters voiced their partiality toward the resolution and their exasperation with the ongoing mask mandate in the school district.

One fourth grader said he “organized a walkout” with his classmates in favor of repealing the mask mandate.

“We all believe that the time has come for St. Paul Public Schools to be mask-free,” he said at the podium.

A first grader and her mother also spoke at the meeting in favor of the resolution. Her mother shared a map of the state, color-coded by mask mandates in schools. Minneapolis and St. Paul were red, while the rest of the map was green.

“Do you think that you are smarter and more concerned and more diligent and more politically correct than every place on the map?” she asked the school board.

Dr. Scott Jensen shared a video on social media from the meeting, commending a mother of an SPPS student who shared her views against mask mandates.

“Momma Bears are going to save us,” Jensen wrote. “We are done co-parenting with the government.”