The Rock Ridge School District will not require masks to start the 2021-22 school year and is planning 100% percent in-person schooling for students.
The district — which has schools in Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert — will instead recommend that students and staff wear a mask, especially for those with medical conditions which might make them susceptible to variations of COVID-19 or those who are unvaccinated.
Rock Ridge is also recommending “that all students and staff, ages 12 and older, follow the CDC guidelines for vaccinations and get a vaccination,’’ said an Aug. 12 letter from Superintendent Dr. Noel Schmidt to parents, students and staff.
The talk of vaccinations and masks did not sit well with some audience members who spoke out. Some of the comments eventually led to a 10-minute recess called by Board Chair Stacey Sundquist, who said as the break began, “You guys (audience members speaking out) can figure out a way to calm down.’’
After the break, law enforcement was on site, according to a source that was attending.
While reading his letter to the board Monday, Schmidt said the steps being taken are “one of the best ways to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks and keep our students in school all year.’’
At the same time, the rising number of COVID-19 cases may require the district to change its procedures. “Consequently, our plan may be in flux,’’ he added.
Schmidt’s reading of the letter at Monday’s School Board meeting was interrupted several times after it apparently touched a nerve of some audience members.
With audience comments like, “We will pull our children out,’’ Sundquist said it was not a time for the public to speak. Another person subsequently spoke out, which led Sundquist to say, “If you can’t control yourself, you’ll have to be removed.’’
Another comment that was not clear on the live stream of the meeting, led Sundquist to say, “is that a threat sir?’’
At that point, she immediately called for the recess.
After the break, board member Pollyann Sorcan said she supports the district going to 100 percent in-person learning, but “I don’t agree with recommending that 12 year olds get vaccinations. I would not recommend that specifically and I don’t think we as a board should recommend that.’’
“It’s just a recommendation,’’ board member Tom Tammaro said. “We’re not telling any parents they have to do it.’’
Sorcan also said she was against wearing masks on district school busses. “I believe that should be up to parents and students.’’
Regarding those who use Rock Ridge’s bus transportation, all students and staff must wear a mask, according to Schmidt, because it is a federal requirement.
The letter also includes the following:
• Any students or staff who show symptoms of COVID-19 will be sent home immediately and will be required to quarantine for 10 days.
• The district will continue to pursue contact tracing on all positive cases.
• The district will try to keep the quarantine period of time to a minimum recommendation from the Minnesota Department of Health.
• The district continues to recommend that parents drive their children to school or older students drive themselves, if possible. This will keep the numbers of individuals on the bus to a minimum and help with creating more space between riders.
• Additionally, Rock Ridge will continue to offer hand sanitizers in key locations; continue to space out students as much as possible in a room and regularly clean high-touch areas.
Schmidt added that parents and students should look for additional information, including the starting and ending times of the school day, to be forthcoming from the building principals.