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By LeAnn R. Ralph
COLFAX — The Colfax Board of Education has made wearing masks optional for summer school, summer swimming and for summer events such as the school musical and Summer Saunters.
The federal transportation mandate is still in effect, however, so masks will be required on school buses, said William C. Yingst Jr., district administrator, at a special meeting of the Colfax school board June 2.
May 28 was the last day of school with students, and June 2 was the last day for school staff, he noted.
School board member Jodi Kiekhafer wondered if the addition to the Back-to-school Plan/Harm Reduction Plan making masks optional should also say that if someone is experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, he or she should avoid school events and stay home.
Board of Education members decided that saying people who are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should stay home did not need to be formally added to the policy since the advice from public health professionals has expressly stated that people who are sick should stay home from the beginning of the pandemic.
Jaci Ackerlund, school board member, asked if optional masks also applied to all school staff who are in the school buildings during the summer.
The answer is — yes.
School board member Kyle Knutson said he believed the federal transportation mandate for masks expires September 16.
Yingst said he knew the federal transportation mandate went through the summer and also believed it expires September 16.
The bullying of any students who choose to wear masks — or those who choose not to wear masks — will not be tolerated, said Todd Kragness, president of the Board of Education.
There will be no warnings and zero tolerance, and anyone who bullies someone about a mask will be subject to disciplinary action, including immediate suspension, he said.
Although the section on bullying originally came after the information about the federal transportation mandate on the update to the harm reduction plan, Knutson said the section on bullying should come before the federal transportation mandate information.
The other members of the Board of Education agreed with the suggested change.
“I think (masks optional for summer) is a good change,” Kragness said.
The Colfax school district made it through the entire school year, and now there are fewer people in the school buildings, he said.
All summer events also are voluntary, Ackerlund pointed out.
The decision is being made based on the fact that there are no longer 800 people in the building daily, she said.
Until further notice
The Board of Education will continue to review the harm reduction plan/mask mandate on a monthly basis, Kragness said.
What is the “trigger” for going back to requiring masks — unless there is a federal, state or local mandate? Knutson asked.
The policy update states “until further notice,” and the school board will monitor the situation monthly. Both are necessary so “we do not pigeonhole ourselves,” said Ken Neuburg, school board member.
With “until further notice” there is no reason to have a sunset provision, and the school board can review the policy monthly, Yingst said.
The school district now has a year’s worth of experience dealing with the SARS-Co-V2 pandemic, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also have experience to work with, he said.
As the saying goes, “we built the plane as we were flying it. And we were successful with our plan,” Yingst said.
The extra deep cleaning done by the custodial staff, the physical distancing, the plexiglass barriers — as well as wearing masks — all of those measures helped mitigate outbreaks of COVID-19, said Ken Bjork, school board member.
The other measures should be kept in place until the coronavirus has totally gone away, he said.
Knutson said he would have little interest in telling students and staff to put their masks back on — not unless “we are stacking bodies like they are in India.”
If there is an outbreak of a new strain that the vaccine does not work to contain, the school board will call a special meeting, Bjork said.
“Our number one priority is to keep a safe school,” he said.
The school board and the school district were reactive when the pandemic first started, but the response turned to being pro-active, Kiekhafer noted.
By saying “until further notice,” the policy is only talking about summer school programs, Neuburg said.
The school year is officially over on June 30, so the plan automatically sunsets on June 30, Knutson said.
The school board approved the harm reduction plan for the 2020-2021 school year, and the school year ends on June 30, Yingst confirmed.
Does the optional mask policy apply also to open gym and the weight room? Ackerlund asked.
Yes — anything on school grounds, Yingst said.
Volleyball and football practice, for instance, will be in the 2021-2022 school year, and most of the summer school programs are in June, but what about Summer Saunters in July? Is that part of the 2020-2021 school year? Ackerlund asked.
Several administrators confirmed that the Summer Saunters program on the Ice Age Trail is part of the 2020-2021 school year and part of the summer school program.
The Colfax Board of Education unanimously approved a motion for the optional use of masks during summer school and other school activities, effective immediately and until further notice.
The motion included the provision that someone bullying another person for wearing a mask or not wearing a mask will not be tolerated and will include disciplinary action up to immediate suspension and that masks will be required on school buses until the federal transportation mandate is removed.
In other business, the Colfax Board of Education approved an update to the policy on school board meetings and public comments with changes recommended by the school district’s consulting firm on policies.
One of the changes was to limit public comment at school board meeting to three minutes instead of five minutes.