Crookston School District will stay at Level 3 of safety plan, keep mask mandate for K-6

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    Crookston School District will remain at Level 3 of their COVID-19 safety plan after a 3-2 vote at a special School Board meeting this week. Board member Mike Theis made a motion early in the meeting that the district move to Level 2 of the plan which would remove the mask mandate for elementary and board chair Frank Fee offered a second to that motion, but members Tim Dufault, Patty Dillabough and Adrianne Winger voted to keep them at their current level for the next two weeks until new data is presented.

    Both Dillabough and Winger noted they had received many emails and messages from people asking to keep the mask mandate for grades K-6 as there are concerns of outbreaks during upcoming holiday gatherings.

    During the open forum portion of the special meeting, five people approached the microphone including three district teachers, one district substitute teacher and one district parent almost split with differing opinions. Teachers Meagan and Monica Parenteau shared the mic and asked board members to keep in mind that masks have helped and are helping keep students in person and in schools. They mentioned that both of their classes were “significantly impacted” when the mask mandate was not in place and they lost “valuable time” they will never get back with their students.

    “We don’t know why we’d scale back efforts as risk will surely increase with celebrations; our county is still seeing high community transmission,” said the Parenteaus. “Our students need to be in school where they can be with their friends, learn from teachers, and make up for the rough two years and disruptions of learning. Put safety and the learning environment first when making your decision.”

    Teacher Sara Pester echoed the Parenteaus saying she wants to continue seeing her students in school where they can get help in person rather than her teaching over a screen.

    “Masks are keeping kids in school; why would we want to change that?” Pester asked.

     District parent Kelly Kliner shared that he has two daughters at Highland Elementary and agreed with a majority of what the Parenteaus and Pester had to say, but felt it all came down to the quarantine protocol set in place and added that wearing a mask should be a personal choice. He voiced that many districts in the U.S. have gone away with the quarantine process and that Crookston School District’s quarantine protocol caused his daughter to be out of school though she was never sick.

    “Our daughter missed several days of school because she was a close contact; she never had a fever, never got sick,” Kliner explained. “The quarantine protocol is the reason for that.”

    When it comes to masks, Kliner said that kids do not want to wear them as they can’t see any facial expressions and can’t communicate properly with teachers, plus felt it should be the choice of the parents and children to wear them or not wear them.

    Kliner’s wife, Kyra, who is a substitute teacher for the district, echoed her husband saying that kids and teachers are not wearing masks anywhere else except when they’re at school and the numbers aren’t changing. She also talked about the Warren School District and how they did not have a quarantine protocol and neither did Detroit Lakes, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, nor Sauk Centre, as examples.

    “Polk County Public Health is not responsible for the district,” Kyra added. “No districts in Marshall County are following public health.”

    She also mentioned asking her daughters how many students in their classes were wearing masks and they said one or two students.

    “Families should have the choice to make: masks or no masks, quarantine or no quarantine,” Kyra continued.

    Following the open forum, Superintendent Jeremy Olson showed a powerpoint with information on the district’s quarantine guidelines which read that during the first four weeks of school there were 99 K-6 grade students who had learning interruptions. During the mask mandated time period of four weeks they’ve had nine K-6 students who had learning interruptions and seven of those were from family close contacts.

    “There’s more COVID activity within the schools as previous years,” Olson explained. “If we do move to Level 2 I’d be a strong component of looking at the data and being ready to pivot to Level 3 if the data increases in the community, and continue to monitor every two weeks.”

    Chair Frank Fee said it was a tough decision for him as he has two grandchildren who attend Highland Elementary and they don’t like wearing masks, but he himself almost died from COVID and he doesn’t take it lightly.

    “After 10 days in the hospital and not knowing if I was going to come out of it, I think we’re going so long with the masking and things are going down a bit but not going down as much as we’d like,” Fee stated.

    Theis added that with the COVID vaccination becoming available for elementary-age students his hope is they’d be able to scale back to Level 1 possibly some time after the first of the year, but acknowledged it was a parental right to have the vaccination or not.

    Dufault noted that the case numbers have turned the right way and it showed that the mask policy worked adding that the mask mandate has kept kids in school. He said he also appreciated hearing from the teachers or what he refers to as “front line workers.”

    “We kept our staff in the classroom, it’s kept the kids in the classroom, kept education flowing,” Dufault continued. “I’m going to err on the side of caution and vote to keep it on for the next two weeks.”

A slide shared at the special School Board meeting showed 2021-2022 COVID-19 learning interruption data