Anoka-Hennepin School District, the largest district in the state of Minnesota, updated its face mask guidance this week following 90 minutes of heated public comment.
Ultimately, Superintendent Dr. David Law recommended that the district require face coverings for students in kindergarten through sixth grade and for staff in K-5 buildings when county case numbers hit 15 COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents.
If the numbers go above 25 cases per 10,000, the district may consider requiring masks for all staff and students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Law said current predictions point to 17 cases per 10,000 residents for Anoka County and 15 for Hennepin County. The Minnesota Department of Health’s data run two weeks behind, he noted, so the exact numbers are not known at this time.
For reference, last September had 10 cases per 10,000 residents. Last December, the cases were upwards of 65 per 10,000 in Anoka and Hennepin counties, Law said.
“Clearly, by the energy tonight, there is no recommendation that is going to please everyone,” Law noted.
‘Pro-freedom of individual choice’
An hour and a half of public comment resulted in almost 30 parents, teachers, grandparents, and concerned citizens sharing their recommendations for masking in schools. A two-minute time slot was allotted to each person, although many went over their time limit.
Roughly half of the public commenters were pro-mask mandate, and roughly half were anti-mask mandate, or “pro-freedom to choose,” as many residents put it.
“I’m not anti-mask or anti-vaccine,” said one woman. “I’m anti-mandate and pro-freedom of individual choice.”
Masks are “harmful” and “diminish [children’s] spirits,” another woman said.
One teacher in the district urged the school board to “show minimal respect” to the community and district employees by “trusting them and us to make our own personal health choices.”
“With all due respect, this is really not your job,” she continued, followed by cheering from the crowd.
At a tense school board meeting Monday night, one Anoka-Hennepin teacher urged the board not to force children to wear masks.
"It's not your job." pic.twitter.com/QTJbA6Go2c
— Alpha News (@AlphaNewsMN) August 25, 2021
Several times throughout the night, Chair Marci Anderson pounded her gavel and called for silence in the room.
The meeting was reportedly packed with people as attendees spilled out into the hallways and even outside the building.
Critical race theory was another hot topic for the night, with several parents expressing concern that the district is moving toward a CRT-based approach in its curriculum.
One woman compared the last two years of COVID restrictions and the emergence of CRT to the indoctrination of youth in Nazi Germany.
“You are no longer teaching. You are indoctrinating children,” she said. “Shame on you. If you don’t destroy our children through indoctrination, you will destroy them mentally and psychologically with masks.”
She claimed the “damage” inflicted by the school board could not be “undone.” Cheers from the crowd ensued, and Anderson pounded her gavel.
The school board cut the mic when one commenter refused to shorten his speech to two minutes. A critical care and trauma nurse and father of children in the district, he shared that he does not support masking, nor does he support COVID testing in schools or CRT being taught in the classroom.
Mandating masks would be “irrational, unscientific child abuse,” he said. After being asked multiple times to wrap up his speech, his mic was shut off, and both cheers and boos erupted from the audience.
A critical care and trauma nurse tells the Anoka-Hennepin school board that masking children is "unscientific child abuse." pic.twitter.com/naBoCOFnsI
— Alpha News (@AlphaNewsMN) August 25, 2021
‘Simple act of requiring masks’
Those who advocated for masks appealed to the safety of their children, comparing mask-wearing to practicing tornado drills and lockdowns or banning smoking on school grounds.
“We can see it coming again: the spike among the unvaccinated and the unmasked,” said one woman. The “simple act of requiring masks” in schools could prevent this, she told the school board.
A sophomore student in the district said she is immunocompromised and wants masks to be required. She also suggested requiring proof of vaccination for high-school students who don’t want to wear masks.
A woman who identified herself as a teacher and parent in the district shared her belief that “liberty is not an absolute right … at all times and all circumstances.” She claimed that “individual rights do not supersede the safety of the general public” and was booed as she left the stand.
Some parents said they will pull their children from the district and homeschool instead if masking is enforced.
“Honestly, if our children were participating in a classroom that resembled some of the activity that has happened in this room and in this building tonight, I would be disgusted and disappointed,” one member of the board noted.
The school board voted 4-1 in favor of the superintendent’s recommendation.
Several school districts across the state are requiring masks for students and staff, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Edina, Brooklyn Center, Duluth, Sartell-St. Stephen, and many others. Most are requiring masks regardless of vaccination status.