HIBBING — A Hibbing couple are spearheading an online fundraising effort to secure enough money to pay an attorney’s retainer fee and to start legal action against Independent School District 701 and the mask mandate put into place in September.

Matt Holmes, who started a Facebook page called “Hibbing Parents Against Mask Mandates” soon after the school board enacted the mask requirement in an attempt to stop the spread of COVID-19 in district buildings on Sept. 13, said by email Wednesday that he believes “the school district has no right to make medical decisions and refuse our legal right to education. Our end goal is to end the mandate and have it be a choice.”

Holmes, and his wife Natasha Holmes, found the attorney, Matt Holmes said, and are looking to raise $3,500 and to start legal proceedings by next week.

Holmes wouldn’t say who the attorney is.

As of Thursday, just under 20 people had contributed approximately $1,200 to the effort at an online fundraising site called GiveSendGo.

Hibbing Superintendent Richard Aldrich said by email Wednesday that he had no comment on potential litigation but did say he believes masking has been an effective tool in keeping kids in school this fall.

“Masking is only one of many mitigation strategies that we practice. The Hibbing Public Schools has nearly 2,800 students, staff and visitors in our district daily. Our in-school transmission has dropped significantly since the masking requirement went into place. Our goal has been to remain in-person, which we have accomplished thus far,” Aldrich said.

Aldrich also provided data on district COVID totals for the week of Oct. 16 through Oct. 22 including:

• Nine students and staff are still in isolation (tested positive).

• 126 students are close contacts-still attending school and being monitored.

• 0 athletes are close contacts/still playing and/or being monitored.

• 46 students are out with symptoms-testing/waiting for test results.

Aldrich added that the district hasn’t had to close any buildings or cancel or reschedule any athletics or activities so far this year due to COVID.

Holmes said masking has been “proven ineffective.”

“The masks do not work and are causing more harm than good. More importantly is we want freedom of choice. If you feel it helps you and that is what you want to do then you have that right. If you do not want to wear one for whatever your personal reason is that should be your choice.”

He also said he believes “masks are just a start of what is going on and an infringement on our liberty as Americans.”

“If we do not stand and say no more I know what is coming next. Masks are just one part of the chess game, look at what is going on already in other states and other countries,” Holmes said. “This is an attack on America, a gross overreach of power from the local, state, and federal level. It is time to remember what has made America the greatest nation and get us back to that.”

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Talk of a potential lawsuit in Hibbing comes just about a month after a Rock Ridge parent group, through their attorney, filed a complaint and request in Sixth District Court for a temporary restraining order (TRO) Oct. 4 after the school board there voted 5-4 on Sept. 27 to implement the “COVID-19 Mitigation Plan 21-22’’ — which includes a mask mandate.

Nearly 300 plaintiffs signed onto that lawsuit, which asked the school district to revise the plan (to take out the mask mandate) or to create an alternative learning option (which is not currently available) for students that choose not to wear face coverings/masks so they will not “be deprived of their right to an education.’’

On Oct. 15 Judge Robert C. Friday denied the motion for a temporary restraining order but said the plaintiffs may seek to amend their amended complaint. A scheduling conference had been set for 8:20 a.m. on Nov. 1 but on Wednesday, in a letter to the Mesabi Tribune, representatives from the parent group announced they would no longer be pursuing the case.

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On the first day of Hibbing’s mask mandate, a group of parents and students gathered in front of the high school to protest the move, with some students being turned away for not wearing masks.

During that time there was a lot of chatter on the “Hibbing Parents Against Mandates” Facebook page (which now boasts more than 600 members) from parents saying they would enroll their students in other districts.

Holmes said he has six kids living “under his roof” at the moment and that he and his wife enrolled four of them in the Chisholm School District but two remain in Hibbing.

Aldrich said enrollment was not significantly impacted as a result of requiring masks.

“Some students chose to attend elsewhere because of masking, and some students open-enrolled into the Hibbing District because we are masking. The number was under 20 coming in and/or out,” Aldrich said.

He also added that staff and students have been supportive of the requirement.

“Our goal is to remain in-person, which we have been able to do. The option of masks or shields has given options to students and staff. Also, we have accepted face covering exemptions, from a doctor, for those that qualify,” he said.

As far as when or if the mask requirement will be lifted, Aldrich said the school board approved the Face Covering Resolution that outlines the process for change.

It reads: "The health and safety measures selected and implemented by the Superintendent shall continue in effect unless and until the School Board, in consultation with the Superintendent and appropriate school district staff and public health officials, deems it in the best interest of the School District and its students to implement different health and safety measures."

“I'm hopeful that if our local numbers continue to drop, and vaccination becomes available for all of our students, that masking will be re-evaluated,” Aldrich said. “We would rely on recommendations from local public health, and other health professionals when making a change.”

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