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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The Colfax Board of Education has agreed to continue with the district’s harm reduction plan that requires everyone in the school buildings to wear masks to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
As of the day of the school board meeting, April 26, there were zero cases of COVID-19 in the school district, and 23.5 days of school remained until the end of the school year, said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator.
The school board has reviewed the district’s harm reduction plan that includes the wearing of masks every month since August 5 when the school board adopted the plan, he noted.
If the school board does not take any action on the agenda item pertaining to the harm reduction plan, the school district’s requirement for everyone to wear masks will continue until the May meeting, Yingst said.
The wearing of masks has created controversy in a number of school districts, and the Colfax school board should be commended for a united stance on the issue, he said.
While other school districts have had to close down or have had to close down schools within the district, Colfax has been open every single day since the start of the school year last fall, Yingst said.
Chippewa County has been experiencing problems with spikes in COVID-19 cases, so “we’re not out of the woods yet,” said Ken Bjork, school board member.
Other school districts have eliminated the requirement for masks, and then they have had school closures because of outbreaks of COVID-19, Yingst said.
Some school boards also are split in their opinions on wearing masks, he said, adding that most people want their children to be in school and recognize that the way they can be in school is if everyone is wearing a mask.
The fact that Colfax has not had to shut down “is not a fluke. It’s due to good planning and follow-through,” Yingst said, acknowledging that the school district has had “a few minor challenges.”
School board member Jaclyn Ackerlund is the Colfax Board of Education’s representative on the Cooperative Educational Service Agency No. 11 Board of Directors.
At the CESA meetings, Ackerlund said she has had a chance to hear from people serving on a variety of school boards, and it has been “a different spring.”
Some of the school board meetings have become quite heated and quite political, she said.
“We’re fortunate to be in Colfax,” Ackerlund said.
Todd Kragness, president of the school board, said he did not feel the need to make changes in the school district’s harm reduction plan.
“We should finish out the school year. We’ve come this far,” he said.
Bjork said he would be perfectly willing to wear a mask if it meant that he did not have to try to supervise grandchildren through day after day of virtual learning.
Several variants of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, such as the British variant B.1.1.7, are circulating in the United States.
According to a variety of news sources, B.1.1.7 is known to be more contagious, to cause more severe illness, and is responsible for more hospitalizations of younger people.
Michigan and Minnesota are both experiencing outbreaks of COVID-19, and according to news stories, B.1.1.7 is believed to be the cause of 50 percent of the new cases in Minnesota.
Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, is quoted as saying B.1.1.7 is “more effective” at infecting children than the original coronavirus strain.
So far, the vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 are proving effective against the B.1.1.7 variant, according to information about several studies posted by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota.