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Superior elementary students will be required to wear masks indoors

A plan approved by the Superior School Board will provide in-class learning five days a week to all students.

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Lifetouch photographer Nancy Lyver, of Hibbing, directs freshman Kaitlyn Rehnstrand at Superior High School on Wednesday afternoon, August 18, 2021. Students were at SHS Wednesday to get their schedules, look around the school, get their photos taken and pick up their laptops. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
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The Superior School Board on Monday, Aug. 16, approved a back to school plan that includes reuniting classes that were separated into cohorts last year and requiring masks for students in grades Pre-K-6 in indoor settings, as well as staff working with those grade levels.

Masks will be optional for students in grades 7-12, but recommended for all students and staff who are not fully vaccinated. Masks will be required on all district transportation, such as buses, per federal mandate.

All students will attend in-person classes five days a week this fall. During the 2020-2021 school year, Superior Middle School and Superior High School classes were split into cohorts, with half the students meeting in-person twice a week and online two days a week.

“Ultimately, our goal is to keep kids in school and learning,” said Christina Kintop, the board's vice president.

District Administrator Amy Starzecki said the school start plan provides many layered strategies for keeping students safe at school. It also remains flexible and could be ratcheted up or down based on local COVID-19 transmission rates and public health recommendations. Board member Rob Morehouse compared it to a road map.

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As part of the plan, no virtual learning option will be offered for elementary or middle school students. Superior High School students can enroll in the Superior Online Learning Option through the school.

“The CDC is very clear that in-person learning should be happening,” Starzecki said.

Mask use could be revisited when vaccines become available for younger children, she said. Currently, children age 12 and younger are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Special accommodations, such as transparent masks, can be made through an Individualized Education Plan, 504 plan or the Americans with Disabilities Act.

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Superior High School principal Rick Flaherty, seated at the table in blue shirt, talks to students outside of the Library Media Center at SHS on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram
Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

The plan was approved during a special meeting at the Superior High School Performing Arts Center amidst a whirlwind of opinions and information.

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More than a dozen parents spoke prior to the decision, all but one in favor of making masks optional for all students. They cited the low percentage of children who die from the COVID-19 virus compared to other factors, and described how wearing masks had negatively affected their children.

Ashley Moore said her son, who wears glasses, had his mask taped to his face last year so he could see. Others spoke about how the inability to see facial expressions and the way words are enunciated has made it more difficult for their children to learn.

“Let us make the choice,” said Diana Smith, who has three of her four children enrolled in Superior schools.

“I trust every parent to make the right decision,” said Superior parent Tammy Davis.

A petition with more than 1,000 signatures asking for mask use to be optional was also presented.

Board members said they received many e-mails from parents about the issue, as well.

“When we look at equity, we have to look at all of our kids, not just the kids who had parents that could represent them here tonight. And I think that’s one of the things I struggle with are the kids that don’t have people that can stand up for them,” Kintop said.

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Sophomore Devon Surla smiles as he gets his photo taken at Superior High School on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Three hours prior to the meeting, Douglas County Health Officer Kathy Ronchi sent out a letter offering COVID-19 recommendations, which included requiring all students to be masked indoors. Health departments throughout the western region of the state sent a copy to school districts in their counties to provide a consistent message, according to the letter.

Despite repeated interruptions from the members of the public who attended the meeting, the board reached a split decision of 5-2 in favor of the plan. Steve Olson and Steven Stupak voted against it. At one point, President Len Albrecht threatened to adjourn the meeting if the outbursts from the crowd continued. Board members said their minds were not made up when they arrived Monday.

“This is not ... easy,” Olson told the crowd. “I know none of you would want to be here having to make this decision. At least I think that.”

“We’re trying to make the best decision possible,” said Mike Meyer.

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Juniors Hailey Fracassi, left, and Skylar Sturm look in lockers at Superior High School on Wednesday, Aug. 18, 2021. Jed Carlson / Superior Telegram

Board Clerk Laura Gapske said there are some valid situations where mask use may be a concern, but parents can make a difference.

“How we handle it as parents has a bigger impact on how kids feel about wearing masks,” she said. “And the sooner we can remedy this in our community, the sooner we can get back to normal, and that’s my goal when I vote tonight.”

Parents were asked to follow-up after the meeting if they had additional questions.

This story was updated with additional information about mask requirements for students and staff in the district. The final version was published at 11:40 a.m. Aug. 18. The initial version was posted at 5:23 p.m. Aug. 17.

Related Topics: EDUCATION
Maria Lockwood covers news in Douglas County, Wisconsin, for the Superior Telegram.
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