A scuffle broke out during an Eastern Carver County School Board public forum discussing masks.
Following a second altercation, law enforcement intervened and two men were removed from an overflowing board room at the District Education Center.
It was a bumpy start to the scheduled Sept. 27 meeting, hours after the district announcement that, beginning Wednesday, Sept. 29, all students, pre-K through 12th grade, will be required to wear masks.
Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams shared in communication to families that as of Sept. 21, Carver County crossed the 14-day average of 50 cases per 10,000 residents that was the benchmark for increasing masking requirement to all students, regardless of vaccination status.
The district stated they look at “several consecutive days of data before making a shift towards more or less restrictive protocols.” Over the last month, the case-rate has increased from 27 to 53.
The updated policy includes a continued mask mandate for pre-K through sixth grade students until at least the end of October. All students grades 7-12, regardless of vaccination status, will be required to wear a face covering through Friday, Oct. 15, at which point district leadership will make a decision about whether to extend the requirement through the end of the month.
The 2021-22 school year began with a mask mandate for students in sixth grade and younger.
“I know this decision will be difficult for some in our community. As much as each of us wishes it were so, the pandemic is not over. Until that time, we must do everything we can to keep each other safe and healthy, and keep our students learning in-person. If your child is sick, please keep them home. Watch them for symptoms. We can slow the spread of the virus, bring our local numbers down, and roll back these protocols, which is what we all want for our children,” Sayles-Adams said, in the district communication.
The 15 speakers at the public forum portion of the School Board meeting included parents and students, such as Integrated Arts Academy senior Samantha Williamson-Hughes, who felt students’ voice are not being valued.
“I am experiencing it firsthand, and what I’m experiencing is absolutely distasteful. This is my last year in high school and I’d like to spend it free of mandates and restrictions. I’d like a normal senior year. Masking should be optional, and not a requirement. When I can’t see my friends’ smile or hear their jokes, we’re doing some wrong here,” Williamson-Hughes said.
It was Williamson-Hughes who asked for the board room to act like “adults” after the second altercation.
Reese Gorney, an 11th grader at Chaska High School with two younger siblings, said because of her anxiety and low blood pressure, in which she has had fainting spells in the past, she believes “everybody should have a right to choose for themselves.” Gorney thanked the school board for a “great education” over the years.
Todd Parmenter, who has had at least one student in the district for the last 15 years, said the decision to add a mask mandate for older children will result in a change of school for his middle school son.
Shannon Schleicher, a mother of two boys at Chanhassen High School, said the updated mask policy was “disappointing.” She said of the roughly 1,600 students in the school, there has only been eight confirmed cases.
“The definition of discrimination according to Merriam-Webster is the act of unfairly treating someone or a group of people differently than other groups of people. ... According to the Eastern Carver County Schools website, Eastern Carver County Schools are committed to an environment where everyone, it says everyone, feels welcome, safe and included,” Schleicher said.
“Under the district’s safe learning plan, quarantining must take place because of the following: testing positive, or a household member tests positive; if you’re identified as a close contact, please, you must provide a negative test after seven days, or if you have no symptoms you can wear a mask for those 10 days. If you’re fully vaccinated, or have had COVID in the last 90 days, then you don’t have to quarantine. So this is conditioning people, including the kids in your district, to believe the vaxxed people are the good guys. Kids are calling out other kids for not being vaxxed. It’s happening in the schools. Parents are talking about it,” she added.
Parent Danielle Engebretson shared a similar story. Her daughter, because she is not vaccinated and had COVID in April, not within the 90-day timeframe, cannot return to school until after a 10-day quarantine after having close contact with a positive case.
“I am so disappointed in the segregation. This is no different than segregating Black and white people. This is exactly Jim Crow laws,” said Engebretson. “We don’t trust you. We want to be able to trust you. Take the masks off our kids and stop segregating our children. You’re violating (my daughter’s) right to an education in a public school, Engebretson said.
“This isn’t community, it’s selfish,” said Dontá Hughes, a 2020 Eastern Carver County School board candidate, referring to the overall tone of the public forum.
“When we constantly say ‘our kids, our kids’ ... we should be trying to get through it together, but we’re not,” Hughes said. “We’re letting what we think, what we feel, drive what we want everyone else to do. And that’s not right.”
Members of the school board, still visibly shaken an hour after the open forum, reiterated that this monthly meeting is not the only way opinions are expressed from the community.
Board member Angela Erickson, in her board report, shared she had multiple conversations out in the community, over the masking policy.
Sean Olsen, like Erickson, a first-year board member, said he has received many emails as well, some from people who felt unsafe to attend the meeting in person.
“It’s been a rough year-and-a-half as a board member in COVID. Part of the reason it’s rough is because we haven’t been able to get into the schools and remind ourselves why we’re here. We’re here because of the kids and because of you great tachers and because of great people like you,” said Vice Chair Lisa Anderson to Clover Ridge Elementary Principal Nate Slinde, who in addition to helping break up the altercation, presented the “good news” happening at the school to the board.