Students, staff and visitors may be required to wear face coverings in Hastings school district buildings based on a scaled plan designated by the number of COVID-19 cases in the district that was passed by the Hastings School Board Wednesday night.

“We’re trying to maintain a balance of not only the health and safety of our students, staff and community, but trying to keep the best learning opportunities,” Superintendent Bob McDowell said.

Hastings Middle School

Mask requirements of students, staff and visitors will de determined based off a low to high scale of COVID-19 cases in the area using a 14-day average of local case numbers per 10,000 people.

Under the plan, masking is more heavily aimed at unvaccinated students, being 2-year-olds through eighth graders.

In a 6-1 vote, board members Kelsey Waits, Dave Pemble, Stephanie Malm, Brian Davis, Scott Gergen and Becky Beissel voted in favor of the plan, while board member Lisa Hedin voted against it.

Hedin said she wasn’t comfortable approving this version of the plan, given that it follows an old data metric from last summer to determine levels of community spread of COVID-19.

According to the plan passed Aug. 25, the levels are designated as such:

1. Minimal/Low

  • A zero to 19.99 average case count in the district/county over the last 14 days per 10,000 people.
  • “All staff, students and visitors within Independent School District 200 buildings (excluding outdoor activity) are recommended to wear a mask. Masking is strongly recommended for unvaccinated students, staff and visitors,” the passed resolution said.

2. Moderate

  • 20 – 29.99 average case count over the last two weeks
  • Individuals two-years old through eighth grade must wear a mask.
  • All staff and visitors at Tilden, the elementary schools and middle school are required to wear masks anytime students are present.
  • Masks are strongly recommended, but not required for grades nine through 12.

3. Substantial

  • 30 – 49.99 average case count over the last two weeks
  • Individuals two-years old through eighth grade must wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.
  • All staff and visitors at Tilden, the elementary schools and middle school are required to wear masks anytime students are present.
  • Masks are strongly recommended, but not required for grades nine through 12.

4. High

  • 50+ average case count over the last two weeks
  • All staff, students and visitors in all Independent School District 200 buildings are required to wear a mask, regardless of vaccination status.

According to the plan, each level will remain in place a minimum of two weeks and until cases fall below a level, however, levels may increase on a shorter basis if case counts increase substantially within those two weeks.

Regardless of level, if a school reaches 5% or higher positivity rate, all individuals will be required to wear a mask until the school’s rate drops to 3% or lower for five consecutive days, according to the plan.

The plan includes for all k-12 students to attend school in-person five days a week for regular school hours.

Waits said her first priority when making the decision was determining how to keep students safely in school.

“Hybrid learning was tough on many children,” she said. “I know it was tough on families, who were trying to figure out how we’re going back and forth between we’re in person, we’re not in person, we’re in person half time, now we’re in person full time.”

Seven parents spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting — all commented on the possibility of a mask mandate with three parents for masks in schools and four spoke against masks.

Support for masks among board members was often met with boos and yelling from some members of the public.

During the discussion on mask, board member Malm said her main priority is protecting the health of district students.

“We don’t have the right to spread illness,” she said. “We have an obligation as a board to protect the public’s health.”

Board member Gergen said masks will not only protect unvaccinated students, but the families that they go home to as well.

“Our students aren’t just with other students, they’re going home to their 20s, 30s, 40s, 50-year-old parents,” Gergen said.

Back in July, the Minnesota Department of Health released its guidance for the fall 2021 school semester, recommending all students, teachers, staff and visitors in school buildings wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

MDH also encourages all people ages 12 years and older get vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to in-person school, sports or other activities to protect themselves and those unvaccinated.

Written By

Reporter

Sophia Voight is a reporter for the Hastings Star Gazette. She is from Oshkosh, WI and graduated from the UW Oshkosh with a bachelor's degree in Multimedia Journalism in 2021. She can be reached with any news tips at svoight@orourkemediagroup.com

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