Masks remain optional in Laurel School District

By 
Chris Mcconnell
Thursday, August 26, 2021
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At Mondays’ trustee meeting there was a large crowd on hand to give comments and hear the Laurel School Board’s position on Policy 1905: Student, Staff and Community Health and Safety. Policy 1905 makes masks optional in the Laurel School District.

The first reading of the policy was approved at the Aug. 9 meeting.

The Memorandum of Understanding with the teachers union to require masks and follow Center for Disease Control recommendations expired towards the end of June of this year.

The current policy regarding masks states in part: Staff and students may wear a mask while present in any school building. The School District does not require the use of masks. The Board of Trustees’ decision to not require or provide masks is based on a review of the circumstances in the community.

Trustee Mike Creeden spoke of a middle of the road approach to masking and proposed putting limits on the time frame that Superintendent Linda Filpula can impose mask requirements in the school district if it became necessary at a later date, “With the stipulation that there’s only an acceptable reason for protection of the students staff and public at large no longer than 14 days. If it goes longer than 14 days then [Superintendent Filpula] needs to come to the board and ask for permission for anything longer, and she can’t impose another one for another 30 days.”

Board Chair Karen Teeters asked Trustee Creeden if that was mentioned “anywhere in Policy 1905 that we’re addressing here?”

Creeden replied, “As a board we can amend a policy which is what we are here to do.”

Trustee Brittani Hunter replied, “The six of us present are here to help our administration, our teachers and our parents; help them educate their children. It is not in our position to tell parents what is best for their children.”

Trustee Dan Fettig said, “As a board we protect our superintendent so I don’t want to delegate that authority down. If [Superintendent Filpula] decides that something changed and we need to go wear masks we’re a phone call away and we can have a meeting within two days. I don’t see the need to pass something on to her, so it’s not gonna happen for me today.”

Trustee Dale Ahrens said he had received a number of emails from parents and said, “I’m very much in favor of parents having control of their own children and being able to do what is right in their opinion, in their minds, for what’s best for their kids and their families.”

Superintendent Filpula said the current board policy that was being discussed was that masks were optional in the school district, but the policy also includes a paragraph regarding harassment. “It’s our job that whether students or staff are wearing a face mask or not, there will be no harassment and we will take that very seriously and investigate.”

[Policy 1905: Allegations of harassment of any person wearing or not wearing a face covering, mask or face shield shall be promptly investigated in accordance with District policy. A student, staff member, or visitor who, after an investigation, is found to have engaged in behavior that violates District policy is subject to redirection or discipline.]

Trustee Hunter followed up by saying, “I was initially the one who voted that in and I want everyone to know they can choose what they want to do for their health situations, but I don’t want other people to be harassed because of that ... I think this helps with our teachers, with our administrators and with our students.”

Then the meeting moved to public comment section where most attendees were in support of parental choice regarding masks:

• A parent and healthcare worker spoke in favor of masks and quoted CDC recommendations on mask guidance. They also said local hospitals have been recently unable to accept patients [due to the recent rise in COVID–19 cases]. They said it was concerning because cases had risen since the MOA expired and circumstances have changed since June. Then the speaker asked the board to reconsider universal masking until health experts deem it safe to go without.

• Another speaker thanked the board for the current policy and leaving it up to the families to make their own health choices.

• A third speaker with four students in the district thanked the board for allowing choice. She said the health opinions seem to change on a daily basis.

• A speaker stated five of their six children had mask exemptions last year but said it was difficult to get respected. She said she fought the entire year to get their kids’ rights medically exempted and said she fully supported the policy to leave the choice up to the parents.

• Another speaker said their three children had medical issues and had some sinus complications due to wearing masks last school year. They agreed with the board policy and stated, in conclusion, that masks endanger their children’s health.

After the public comment section, Trustee Creeden asked to amend the wording of the policy to what he stated earlier in the meeting about limiting the timeframe that Superintendent Filpula could impose a mask mandate if it became necessary in the future, but got no second’s on the motion.

The board passed Policy 1905, 5–1, with Creeden voting against (Trustee Emilee Sarkela was not in attendance).

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