The Sartell-St. Stephen School Board voted Monday night to require all students to wear face masks in school buildings when they return next month. This mandate is regardless of vaccination status.
There is no carve out for special education students, and the district will not be offering a distance learning option for individual students this school year, even if quarantined at home. The district cited a lack of funds for these accommodations in the wake of a debunked $80,000 “Equity audit.”
The new guidelines are expected to be shared with the entire school community Wednesday.
During the public comment period at Monday’s school board meeting, a large crowd of parents, students and community members gathered at Sartell High School’s Performing Arts Center to read statements to the board regarding the district’s equity audit and COVID-19 face mask requirement.
One parent said her son suffers from severe allergies and often complains about not being able to breathe while wearing a mask, especially during gym class.
“Will you please tell my son why he can’t have his voice to choose? What in the world are we teaching our kids by masking them?” she said. “In other words, it’s kind of ‘shut up and comply.’”
“The government, CDC, and the school board have no authority to take away our constitutional freedoms to choose,” the mother added. “I don’t co-parent with the government or the school board.”
Another parent said he and his wife moved to Sartell for the schools but have been disappointed thus far.
“Between the wasting of taxpayer dollars for an equity audit that the school could’ve done itself like other schools do, to the absolute crazy ideas that at least one board member has put forth the past couple of weeks and even the possibility of mandating masks for my five-year-old — I’m certain you’ve done some great things for the school district and I’m very appreciative of that, but these things have made my wife and I reconsider if we made the right choice in this school district,” he said.
He also called out the board’s apparent political posturing. Whereas just two weeks ago no board members donned face masks, six of the seven did so Monday evening.
One mother said her daughter was constantly “harassed” by teachers to pull up her mask over her nose.
“I had to pull her out because she just couldn’t take it anymore so she just stayed home with me. I’m hoping she can just have a choice,” she added. “Think of what you’re doing mentally to these children.”
A few high-school students and residents did speak in favor of a mask mandate at the meeting.
Board Members Patrick Marushin and Tricia Meling voted against requiring masks, while Amanda Byrd, Matt Moehrle, Jason Nies and Jeremy Snoberger voted in favor.
Marushin recommended the district use mask mandates as “a tool for surge control,” saying that if there was a spike of COVID-19 in schools, the district could take stronger measures.
Snoberger said the members who voted in favor could not ignore the advice of so-called public health experts.
The board members all agreed that face coverings interfere with learning, especially with younger students.
Parents who oppose the requirement said it should be up to parents to decide if their children wear masks in school buildings.
One attendee told Alpha News that “Sartell seems clueless of the financial implications” of losing students and said “they should probably take a hard look at policies, or they will be disappointed the next time a referendum comes up.”
The aftermath of a tumultuous summer finds dozens of families reportedly looking to home-school or move to nearby districts due to the equity audit situation and mask mandates.
Parents across the state recently wrote to Gov. Tim Walz and others demanding an end to mask mandates for children.
Currently, school districts in Foley, Holdingford and Sauk Rapids-Rice have optional masks. Each district is within a 15-minute drive of Sartell.
A.J. Kaufman is an Alpha News columnist. His work has appeared in the Baltimore Sun, Florida Sun-Sentinel, Indianapolis Star, Israel National News, Orange County Register, St. Cloud Times, Star-Tribune, and across AIM Media Midwest and the Internet. Kaufman previously worked as a school teacher and military historian.