By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

A long-awaited decision on masking by the Houston School Board was determined at its regular meeting on Thursday, Sept. 2.

Students in the Houston School District are recommended to wear a mask this year, regardless of vaccination status. The district will be following the federal mandate of masking on all transportation until further notice, the document “Health and Safety Measures for the 2021-22 School Year” stated. 

The prevention strategies policy cited that staff, students and visitors are recommended “to follow the strategies of physical distancing, handwashing and respiratory etiquette, cleaning and disinfection, contact tracing, screening testing, and staying home when sick as defined in the ‘CDC Guidance for Covid-19 Prevention in K-12 Schools.’”

Superintendent Mary Morem announced the district would be able to offer three types of Covid-19 testing if kids presented with symptoms. One of those tests can get results in 30-minutes. The testing will only be done with both parents’ consent. Recommendations will be followed from the Minnesota Department of Health. 

She also noted that elementary rooms have a refresh rate of 25 times per hour, due to the HVAC system installed about four years ago. The recommended refresh rate is 5-6 times per hour. 

Also cited in the document was the authorization of the superintendent to select and implement different health and safety measures for the school district, after consultation with the school board chair and notification to the school board. 

Parents repeated their concerns from the Aug. 19 meeting. Tara Klinski cited a statistic from the CDC that said about 83% of the population has antibodies from vaccination or infection. 

“I stand behind the decision to have the option to wear a mask,” she said. “Children are not shields for the sick and elderly. They need to be in school like any other year.”

Kendra VanGundy asked if they could clear up any vague words in the document, and go with “optional” instead of “recommended.”

“I want to make sure my child isn’t bullied into whatever his decision is,” she said. 

She also asked for the Covid committee to be more accessible to parents, especially for those who work. The board did not change the wording of the document.

Brandon Olson said he’d like to see the masking stay optional, and cited his kindergartener had anxiety and depression issues last year because they couldn’t see facial expressions. 

In the board’s discussion, board members said they had phone calls and letters that were for and against masking. Board chair Tom Stilin said the document is fluid and can be up for changes and alterations. 

“It’s not a one and done type situation,” he said. “The whole objective is to get school started...”

The motion was made by Mark Swenson, seconded by Gene Lundak and approved 5-1, with Mimi Carlson casting the lone no vote. Board member Richard Erdmann was not present at the meeting. 

Other news

On the advice of Sitelogic, the Houston School Board approved a resolution that allows them to re-submit its 10-year Long-Term Facilities Maintenance (LTFM) Plan. 

The decision comes after the first draft of the plan did not include the bond payment, Finance Director Gwen Rostad said. 

Previously, the board did not approve a resolution to do a bond sale on the LTFM projects. Matt Helgerson, Sitelogic, said the board could always rescind that decision if the bonds were not in the district’s favor. They could also set a dollar amount that cannot be exceeded, he noted.

The new LTFM plan has a principal amount of $1.66 million, but the school only pays 12% of that. About 85% of that is covered by the state and the remaining amount will be covered by ESSER dollars. This would affect any construction for the summer of 2022. 

The board approved the resolution for the sale of bonds and the amendment and re-submission of the LTFM plan. 

The district spent $6,368 for the door replacement at the elementary building. The decision did not need an approval, due to the amount being less than $10,000. La Crosse Overhead Door Company will replace the door. 

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Houston School Board will be Sept. 16, at 6 p.m. in the high school library.

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