The Moorhead Area Public Schools board adjusted its policy on mandating masks Monday. When school starts next week, all students from kindergarten through 12th grade – as well as faculty, staff and visitors to local schools – will be required to wear masks indoors to stem the spread of the dangerous Covid-19 Delta variant.
On Aug. 4, the board had voted to recommend masks, rather than mandate them. The change this week was spurred by the announcement over the weekend that Clay County has moved into the CDC’s high risk category, based on the number of newly reported cases and the percentage of the population testing positive.
The Delta variant has fired up concerns over the virus after the relative calm of late last spring and this summer. In addition to being more highly infectious than earlier coronavirus strains, the CDC has said Delta seems to affect children and young adults to a greater degree than the original virus. Vaccine protection is only available for students who are 12 or older.
Five members of the board voted to mandate the masks – chair Cassidy Bjorklund and members Matt Valan, Rachel Stone, Kara Gloe and Keith Vogt. Melissa Burgard voted against the policy. Scott Steffes arrived late and did not take part in the vote. The meeting drew more than 100 people. Many cheered or jeered those randomly selected to testify on their feelings, pro or con; Bjorklund cautioned them repeatedly against disrupting the meeting.
Superintendent Brandon Lunak emailed a message Tuesday to all families in the district. He noted that high transmission levels and guidance from the CDC, Minnesota Departments of Health and Education, and OSHA established standards related to COVID-19.
“The increasing number of COVID-19 cases has now placed Clay County in the CDC’s high (red) level of transmission,” he told parents. “To enable us to continue to operate normally and keep kids in school this fall, we will require indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students and visitors in MAPS Pre K-12 grade schools, regardless of vaccination status starting August 30.”
To accommodate parents uncomfortable with the policy, additional spots were opened up in the district’s online learning academy Wednesday.
He concluded, “Preventative steps such as masking allow us to continue our educational mission and to give our students and staff meaningful experiences together in the classrooms.
“We understand that there are various deeply held convictions about face-coverings. Regardless of our personal opinions, we all share the desire to keep our students safe and in school. We ask for your kindness and respect as we together work through this latest challenge and navigate the school year.”