By Jordan Gerard

Editor, The Caledonia Argus

The Houston School Board turned down a proposed Covid-19 policy from its Covid-19 committee at the board’s regular meeting on Thursday, Aug. 19. 

The Health and Safety Measures for the 2021-2022 School Year policy proposed offered two options for masking: the first requires masking when county transmission levels are “substantial” or “high” and the second recommends masks when those levels reach “moderate” or “low.”

The second and third parts of the policy outlined prevention strategies that stated staff, students, visitors within the buildings are recommended to follow 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,” and the superintendent will provide regular updates to the school board regarding the school district’s efforts to implement COVID-19 related educational and public health guidance issued by MDE and MDH. 

The policy was proposed by the Covid-19 committee, who used guidance from the Minnesota School Board Association, Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Department of Health. 

About 10 parents, along with several board members, agreed that the school should not make the masking decision for parents. 

Parent Tara Klinski said it was important to remember that “we do not co-parent with the government ... or board of education...” 

“Leave the medical decisions to us. If you want to wear a mask do so, but understand we have made an informed decision,” she said. 

Klinski also said about 86 people signed a petition in less than 24 hours that said they did not want their kids wearing a mask in school.

Other parents took a more aggressive stance, saying they would homeschool or send their kids to a different school, if the district enforced mask wearing. 

Ken Witt noted that other area school districts have gone with optional masks. 

“Think of the student that is trying to build a bond in the classroom the first few years ... they lost it all last year,” he said. “Give us the choice.”

Board member Mimi Carlson pointed out that several parents contacted her, urging for masking. She also pointed out that the entire class won’t need to quarantine if one student is sick. She felt the proposal was proactive. 

“I think this is a good compromise when we know there is higher community spread,” she said. 

Board member Josh Norlien disagreed and said he would like to start optional and receive regular updates from the Covid-19 committee. 

Board member Arlin Peterson said the board represents the parents of the community, and the board needs to listen to them.

“My take is if you want to wear a mask, wear a mask ... if you choose to not wear it, that is your choice with your family,” he said. “That’s who we represent. If we require masks, we are taking away a right from the people who don’t want to wear masks. If we don’t require masks, you still have the option to wear a mask.”

Board member Richard Erdmann agreed and encouraged them to go with recommending masks and address community spread as it comes. 

When it came down to the vote, the resolution failed 4-2, with Carlson and board chair Tom Stilin casting the lone yes votes. The proposal goes back to the Covid-19 commitee. 

Preschool transportation

Superintendent Mary Morem said preschoolers could be transported to and from licensed daycares during the school day. The cost could be about $1.60-$2.00 per day, or $35-$40 per month. Scholarships or assistance should be available for families in need. Erdmann asked Morem to check on available seat belts on buses to ensure students’ safety. 

Other news

The remainder of the meeting was fairly easy, with the approval of handbooks for students and staff, all onsite buildings, Summit Learning Center and coaching. 

Next meeting

The next meeting of the Houston School Board will be Sept. 2, at 6 p.m. in the high school library.

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