VIRGINIA — The Rock Ridge School Board narrowly approved putting required masking into place after a lengthy discussion and comments from a crowd of more than 100.

After a motion to implement face coverings (masks) by board member Matt Sjoberg and supported by board member Tom Tammaro, the vote was 5-4 in favor. Brandi Lautigar, Bill Addy, John Uhan and Pollyann Sorcan voted against. Board members Murray Anderson, Tim Riordan and Stacey Sundquist voted for the new RR COVID-19 policy, which included masking.

Superintendent Noel Schmidt said he is recommending the masking requirement begin next Monday.

Jeff Carey, a school district administrator, said Rock Ridge tried to start out the year as normal as possible. However, the current COVID numbers are a cause for concern and led to the district COVID team meeting last Thursday to put more mitigation measures in place and keep kids in school as long as possible, he added.

Carey added the district’s case rate is higher now than it was when the school went to distance learning last year.

The rate includes a recent “wave’’ that went through the Nelle Shean Elementary sixth grade in Gilbert, which led to masks being implemented there eight days ago.

The current situation in the district led to the “universal face coverings’’ recommendation, he stated.

“I do not support universal masking in the district,’’ Sorcan relayed to the board.

“I can’t support the universal masking either,’’ Uhan said. “Those that want to wear masks are wearing them.’’

Addy argued that kids take their masks off after school and interact with others from “unmasked schools.’’

“It is a difficult decision,’’ according to Lautigar, who said she lost sleep over it. She also added that the children don’t wear masks properly.

“I want to make sure we’re doing everything that we possibly can to prevent the spread before we go to masking.’’

Anderson, who supported the motion, said everyone was complaining about the kids not being in school last year. “Now we have them in school. Kids are starting to get sick. When is it going to happen that they may get sick and we’ll have to go to distance learning.’’ He stated he based his support of masks

after doing extensive research on medical websites.

Sjoberg said, “I do think education took a huge hit last year’’ with kids falling behind. “People are still behind because they weren’t able to come to school. Do everything possible to keep them in school.’’

“It should be a parent’s choice,’’ Lautigar responded shortly before the vote was taken.

More than 100 citizens attended the meeting and four spoke out against requiring masks in the visitor input that opened the meeting.

The speakers mentioned several factors in their comments

Attorney Robert Roby of Cambridge, Minnesota, (a legal representative for citizen Julianne Paulsen) stated a Minnesota statute says residents have a fundamental right to choose their own medical treatment and there is a criminal sanction if that is violated. The question is if a mask is medical treatment. He added that many school boards aren’t requiring masks “for good reason.’’

Kirsten Klang, a mother of two Rock Ridge students, said her biggest concern is the psychological impact wearing masks has on students, including her son.

“I know you won’t do this to my kids again,’’ she said about wearing masks. “I know you’ll make the right choice.’’

Teacher Jeff Teasck told the board that not many kids wear masks in school right now, even though they are recommended right now. He added he hasn’t seen any kids being teased for wearing a mask.

Teasck also stated distance learning was offered in grades 3-6 and only 22 of 732 kids took advantage of that. “The kids want to be in school. They don’t want to wear a mask while they’re here.’’

He later said, “keep it a recommendation please. Don’t require this,’’ which drew a round of applause from the audience.

Tom Waldron also stepped up to the microphone and stated medical and cloth masks don’t cut it and are not effective. “That is the science.’’

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