The Solon Springs School District’s mask mandate ends June 5. School Board members voted unanimously to end its policy requiring mask use at school during the Monday, May 17, board meeting. The policy had already been tweaked at the April Board meeting to no longer require masks during outside classes and activities at the school. The change will impact summer school classes for the district., which are slated to begin June 14. Board members said they would revisit the question of mask use for the 2021-22 school year at future meetings if necessary.
The board also voted to expunge any COVID-19 related disciplinary actions from student records at the end of the school year. The majority of those disciplinary actions involve mask use, according to Principal Holly Jones.
The move to drop the mask mandate came on a day when dozens of people attended the meeting, in person and via Zoom, in response to a March presentation given to seventh- and eighth-grade students on gender identity. District Administrator Frank Helquist said they set up a second seating area in the lunchroom commons to accommodate the crowd.
Concerns with the presentation were initially raised during the April School Board meeting by a Solon Springs parent who said no parental consent was required for the 60-minute lesson, and parents were not given the opportunity to have their children opt out.
The speakers Monday included students from three different districts, parents and a behavioral health therapist, many from outside the district. They emphasized the need to promote acceptance and respect, particularly for LGBTQ+ students. These students are at a greater risk for violence and suicide, according to a 2020 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They also supported the educators who chose to provide the training to students.
“We were just extremely pleased, the board, after the meeting … they were so appreciative of the people who came and spoke,” Helquist said. “Each one spoke eloquently. That’s kind of cool when you see a 15- or 16- or 17-year-old kid speaking eloquently and speaking from the heart.”
The Board focused on the policy, not the topic.
“We’re approaching this from a perspective of, we want to make sure that our policies regarding sensitive and controversial issues is followed,” Helquist said, and that the district has an updated human growth and development program. “At the same time, we want to make certain the rights of all students are protected, all students are respected in our school community, and we want the same for our adults.”
The board approved the formation of a Human Growth and Development Advisory Committee, something the district hasn’t had since 1987.
Helquist said he was excited to see that so many people felt comfortable sharing their thoughts with the board.
“I want to continue the dialog,” board President Keith Nordskog said following the public comments Monday. “I’m very happy for all of you that showed up and spoke. It took courage to come out and talk about this. Thank you to everyone out there for listening.”
The fact that so many people chose to spend a beautiful afternoon connecting with the school board, he said, “shows people really care about what’s going on.”
In other business, the board approved extending its sports co-op with Northwood School for baseball and softball into the 2021-22 and 2022-23 school years. The board also gave its approval for the school to explore creating a co-op team for track and field with Northwood.