The Maple School Board revisited its August decision to make masks optional for students and staff in preschool through grade 6 at its Monday, Sept. 13 meeting.
After an hour of public comment on the subject, the board voted to continue to make masks optional for all students and staff. The split vote mirrored the one in August, with five in favor, two against.
The agenda item drew a crowd to the Northwestern High School auditorium. About 25 members of the public spoke on the subject of masks, including a few students. The majority requested that mask use remain optional.
Amy Glonek of Poplar said this was the third time she had spoken to the board about mask use in 10 months. Judith Cheney of Brule expressed frustration that the subject was being brought up so early in the school year.
“Bottom line, this back and forth needs to stop,” she said.
Board vice president Danna Livingston-Matherly said she brought the agenda item up because the board had not set a pivot point indicating how many positive student and staff cases would trigger a special meeting to revisit mask use in the schools. When the board approved its back to school plan in August, Douglas County was seeing moderate transmission rates. That has changed to high, Livingston-Matherly said, and two nearby districts have experienced shutdowns due to the virus.
The district has many other protocols in place, from hand washing and sanitizing to social distancing, board president Nancy Lind said.
“We’ve barely had any days to test this protocol, to see how efficient this is,” Lind said.
District Administrator Sara Croney said in the first two weeks of school one staff member and one student who had contracted COVID-19 prior to the start of school tested positive for the virus, and there is currently one active case in the district.
Instead of moving the issue forward to a future meeting, board members agreed to use a mitigation chart proposed by Croney as a guideline for when a special meeting on the issue could be called. At that point, the board would make the decision if masking would be required.
Board treasurer Adam Landwehr said he didn’t want to keep kicking the can down the road.
“We’ve got, I don’t know, 150 people sitting here. They don’t need to come back every single month to do this,” he said.
“No matter what way the vote goes tonight, I agree. I don’t want to keep rehashing this … unless it gets to the point where we have to re-visit because of the numbers increasing,” said board member Shari Olson.
Lind read a statement prior to the public comment portion of the meeting setting ground rules for the contentious issue. Parents, grandparents, medical professionals and one woman who had COVID-19 in November and remained unable to taste or smell spoke. Lind thanked everyone for speaking from their heart and sharing their concerns.
“I appreciate the respectfulness that was shown in this auditorium tonight to each other,” Lind said. “You could be a model for the country.”
Olson thanked the speakers as well, noting that there is an overwhelming volume of information and disinformation on the subject.
“I think the board has a goal of doing what’s best for kids, and I believe that’s the community’s goal as well. It seems the conflict comes in when we differ on how we get to that goal,” she said.