As the first day of school is quickly approaching, emotions ran high at the latest Prior Lake Savage Area School board meeting Monday as parents and staff advocated for and against mask requirement and school board members discussed their Back-to-School Safe Learning Plan.
The current plan will not require students to wear masks at the start of the year, though that is subject to change.
Superintendent Teri Staloch and Kate Keil, District Health Coordinator, presented the Back-to-School Safe Learning Plan after working with the PLSAS Incident Command Team and administrators this summer.
The official first day of school in PLSAS is Sept. 8.
"We are a month away from school and we have been planning all summer and diligently looking at the data and reviewing and monitoring both what the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and the Minnesota Department of Health have shared with us in regards to COVID-19 guidance," said Staloch. "Additionally, we have and will continue to monitor district, counties and state levels closely throughout the year as part of our decision making process in addition to our regular communication with local and state health partners sharing data for a safe return to school for students and staff this fall."
Following public health guidelines
Staloch said PLSAS will follow the public health guidelines from the CDC and Minnesota Department of Health.
The PLSAS safety protocols and procedures for the 2021-22 school year are as follows:
- Universal indoor masking is recommended for all people in the school setting (ages 2 years and older), including teachers, staff, students and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status.
- Face coverings are required on all district-provided transportation. This is a CDC requirement, regardless of vaccination status.
- In general, people do not need to wear masks when outdoors. However, in areas of substantial to high transmission, CDC recommends that people aged 2 years and older who are not fully vaccinated wear a mask in crowded outdoor settings.
- PLSAS will continue to monitor case rates and stay in communication with Scott County Public Health throughout the school year. If any changes are needed they will communicate to staff and families as soon as possible.
Staloch said the school board has been having and will continue to have weekly meetings with Scott County Public Health Department and the state health department. She said plans are based on the guidelines and available data, with the understanding that requirements could change in the future.
PLSAS also has safety protocols and procedures put in place for social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing, reported COVID-19 cases, COVID-19 vaccinations and lunch and cafeteria meal serving times.
During the meeting, Kate Keil, the district health coordinator, presented the latest data from elementary, secondary and data across all schools regarding confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Keil stated that in spring 2021, a total of 872 students were sent home due to COVID-19 symptoms, 5% of symptomatic students tested positive for COVID-19, 477 students were quarantined due to a close contact at school and 1% of quarantine students tested positive for COVID-19.
In secondary schools, 290 students were sent home due to COVID-19 symptoms, 27% tested positive for COVID-19, 396 students were quarantined due to a close contact at school and 1% of quarantine students tested positive for COVID-19.
According to data across all schools, Keil stated that 91% of students who tested positive for COVID-19 were exposed due to a household exposure or an event outside of school such as a party.
Keil added during summer 2021, a total of 305 students were enrolled in summer school programming, 661 students were enrolled in Kid’s Company and no COVID-19 cases were reported in the school buildings throughout summer programming.
School board officials stated they will continue to ask families to closely monitor symptoms so students stay home when sick.
When it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations, Staloch said vaccines are recommended for eligible individuals by the health department and CDC. She also said the COVID-19 vaccination is not a requirement to attend school and the district encourages families to self-report COVID-19 vaccination information so that it can be included in their child’s school immunization record.
Community speaks out
During the open forum, parents, staff members, students and community members spoke publicly for and against face coverings which garnered a few cheers from the audience at times.
Shannon Smith, a Savage resident, said she would like to see a compromise between the school district and public health departments.
"Last year our district used metrics and guidance to decide when school was in person, hybrid or distanced. Let's do the same with masking if we don't have a universal mask requirement in place," said Smith. "According to the CDC, whose guidance is shared by MDH and MDE, there are specific reasons when masks should be universally required. One is the student population that is not yet eligible for vaccination and increasing transmission in school or the community. The delta variant is also more transmissible amongst everyone."
Smith encouraged the school board and the community to work together to help stop the spread of COVID-19.
"Let's work together to make our community safe and our kids and teachers in school. Don't want to wear a mask? Get vaccinated, make smart decisions and help stop the community spread," said Smith. "But when we have substantial and high spread, mask up. Make the right choices to make our children in person learning safe."
Kelli Schulte, a licensed K-6 teacher and mother of five in Prior Lake, said her son is one of the exceptions of someone who cannot wear a face mask or get vaccinated due to medical conditions.
"This year he was so excited because the masks are gone and he could go back to school. He's had seizures three times from vaccinations so that's not an option for him," said Schulte. "Parents who come here that can't get vaccinated and can't wear a mask, they have a story. They're not tyrannical parents who want to destroy the world."
Charlie Sederstrom, another parent and resident of Prior Lake, encouraged board members to listen to the facts and not yield to political pressure.
"I would say there's a lot of passion out here and I think that's important to consider as you decide and make decisions for the next few months. Rather than yield to political pressures or maybe the loudest people in the room — follow the science, follow what the health department is saying and make decisions based off of that," said Sederstrom.