ELY – By the second day of the new school year, a confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Ely schools, yet the controversial K-12 face mask mandate was the main topic at the Ely Safe …
ELY – By the second day of the new school year, a confirmed case of COVID-19 was reported in Ely schools, yet the controversial K-12 face mask mandate was the main topic at the Ely Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council meeting last Thursday.
ISD 696 administrators have been forced to defend the controversial measure and indicated that the face-covering requirements will continue for at least another week, and likely longer, while COVID-19 surges in the community.
Superintendent Erik Erie told members that school administrators recommend that the mandate continue for all indoor settings on campus.
He acknowledged the public criticism, including a petition signed by nearly 300 school district residents opposed to the mandate, saying school leaders would continue to consult with health officials and perhaps develop a plan for easing the restrictions if and when COVID-19 case rates ease.
“Nobody wants to be wearing a mask,” said Erie. “The big question is what is it going to take to change from mask on to mask off. We don’t have all the answers yet.”
In regard to the petition from the Ely Community Voice group, he added, “We’re hearing from the community, certainly with the petition. People want to know what we’re doing and why. That message certainly came through.”
After adjourning for the summer, the Advisory Council reconvened on Aug. 10 to prepare for the upcoming school year.
“At that time the Minnesota Department of Health was expecting a surge (in COVID cases) but optimistically looked at that going down before school,” Erie said. “We know that hasn’t happened.”
One positive case of coronavirus was reported at Washington Elementary School on Wednesday. No quarantines were announced.
“We went all summer without a positive case, and we had a lot of people around here, certainly a lot of employees and a lot of construction workers and a robust summer school program,” Erie said.
ISD 696 administrators developed messaging on what the district intended to do regarding public health protocols, including a “strong recommendation to wear face masks” that was announced on Monday, Aug. 23.
A resolution adopted that day by the Ely school board renewed the authority of school administrators to react quickly to changing COVID case data including requiring face masks.
“That allowed us to do things quickly without the need to convene a special school board meeting if our situations change,” Erie said.
Later that week, as new information and health professional recommendations concerning the surging coronavirus case rate wereconsidered, the school district came out with the new mask-to-school rules.
“The timing for all of us was frustrating. It was frustrating for our administration team, and for our school board,” he said. “This was a difficult decision to make given the timing and with school ready to start the following Tuesday.”
He listed the surging COVID-19 transmission rate in Ely, new guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health, and Essentia Ely Clinic messaging urging that all students wear face masks as the trigger for the change.
Guidance from changes in the regional COVID case-rate data and health professional recommendations will continue to dictate how and when any school safe learning policies will be adjusted in Ely schools. A petition from as many as 300 district residents calling for masking of children to be the choice of parents/guardians and not the school district was to be presented to the Ely school board this week.
Aubrie Hoover of the St. Louis County Public Health Department told school officials that, “Ely may be a trend setter when it comes to making the move (to a mask mandate). A lot of schools that did not start (the new school year) with requiring masks are now coming before their boards requiring the masks.”
Hibbing was set to start with their mask mandate this week.
“Other schools are reviewing and making similar decisions to (Ely). A lot of schools are changing their plans. You are the first of many that are making this change,” she said.
The Ely Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council is scheduled to meet again onThursday, Sept. 23.