At a Sept. 5 special school board meeting, the Orono School Board voted in favor of a mask requirement policy for the district.
At that meeting, school board members and district administrators listened to comments from the public for and against that policy for just over an hour.
That scene played out again on Monday, Sept. 13, as the school board again heard about an hour of comments from the public for and against the masking requirements at its regular scheduled meeting.
Prior to the public comment period, board chair Bob Tunheim asked for comments to be respectful of each other and that attacks directed towards the board and its members stop.
“The verbal assaults, phone bombing, social media posts and other bullying behavior that we have seen from a few people are reprehensible and do not represent the Orono I’ve come to know and love,” Tunheim said. “Please know, these acts of intimidation will not work. This board is dedicated to doing what is best for our students - by following data, directions of public officials and experts and allowing our exceptional teachers and administrators to employ the very best methods of teaching and learning to prepare our students for an increasingly complex and challenging world. Please put aside the politics of divisiveness and fear that is being unleashed across the country and not just here. Realize the goal of such divisiveness is precisely the opposite of what I truly believe we all want – the best public school education for our kids.”
The comments for and against the masking requirements were just about equal, with students Andrew VanOverbeke and Grace Pierpont opening up the comments by thanking the board for the policy but asking for better enforcement of the rules.
“Over the course of the first week back at school, we have observed that this mandate is not being adhered to by an estimated 30 percent of the high school student body at any point during these hours, and is not being enforced by the majority of the staff,” Pierpont said. “We, as much as anyone in our class, are hoping for a ‘normal’ year, but if this behavior continues, we fear that Orono may be forced to return to distance learning.”
VanOverbeke continued, “This is an issue that is currently unsolvable without giving the teachers and administration the proper tools and encouragement to better enforce this mandate, which should effectively protect those within our community at higher risk.”
Later in the comment period, Matt Crane, parent of first- and fifth-graders, agreed with Pierpont and VanOverbeke.
“I urge you to better enforce the policy,” Crane said. “School started Wednesday with a mask policy in place, however as parents we are hearing this is not being uniformly enforced and thus seemingly voluntarily for those students that choose to defy the policy. Without enforcement, it’s nothing but a hollow policy that honestly satisfies nobody. This should be enforced no differently than any other school policy aimed at creating a safer environment.”
Speaking out against the mask requirements was Matt Johnson, who asked why community transmission rate levels are being used and questioned the science behind that usage.
“I’ve looked at the MDH website, CDC website, University of Minnesota website for this information for the underlying science that these supposedly now arbitrary numbers come from,” Johnson said. “There is no data and there is no research that support the 100 per 100,000 or whatever these numbers are. You can’t find it. They don’t exist. ... You started off the last meeting by stating that you don’t want to make medical decisions and then you went and prescribed a medical device for everybody in the school district because the way the masks are being used is in a medical capacity. I assume you are not a doctor capable of prescribing but yet you did the exact thing you said you didn’t want to do.”
Jillian Moriarty, of Minnetonka Beach, also spoke out against the masking policy.
“What I know is masking is hugely detrimental to our health,” Moriarty said. “Masks are harmful to our kids. I insist that you repeal the Orono masking policy and change it to a policy that allows for medical freedom, choice and parent responsibility. Do the right thing and not the safe political or puppet thing and let our kids be free and let our kids breathe.”