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Members of public urge school board to resist masks, vaccines

NEW ULM — The New Ulm School board heard parents and grandparents of students who opposed masking mandates in the upcoming school year.

At the start of the meeting, Superintendent Jeff Bertrang said the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health were preparing recommended guidance for schools to start in the fall and currently there were no state requirements for masks in the schools.

The schools must still follow the mask requirement on school buses. The buses fall under federal rules, which still require masks. The schools do not have a choice on whether to follow that regulation.

The schools will not require COVID vaccinations for staff or students. There will be no pod model like last year. Mask wearing will be optional at this time.

Bertrang said this information will be sent out to parents before school starts but said regulations shift based on state mandates.

Later in the meeting, the board took questions and comments from the public. Dawn Turbes had concerns about masks requirements, asking if the school policy was set in stone or if it was still open for discussion.

Bertrang said everything is up for discussion. The administrative team would meet to put a plan together. His concern was any plan developed by the district at this time could be overruled by the state requiring it to adjust their plan.

Turbes said that currently there are no mandates on the masks, only guidelines. Any decisions were currently up to the board and she expected it to be openly debated before reaching a final decision. Turbes asked the board to consider that a large number of parents do not want mask mandates for children. She asked them to consider the impact the masks already had on children. She believes the only fair mask policy is the policy which is voluntary. She reminded the board that parents could remove their students from the schools if a mask mandate was implemented.

“We will make a decision that is best for our children, not what is best for the board,” Turbes said.

Turbes also had concerns about the schools encouraging vaccinations.

Bertrang said the schools are looking at offering voluntary clinics for students 12 and above during the upcoming open house events. They would use the Pfizer vaccine because this is the only COVID vaccine authorized for 12 years and above.

Bertrang repeated that this was voluntary. The school cannot require anyone receive the vaccine.

Turbes asked that these offers be made to parents rather than the students and not target or pressure students. She said the last thing students needed were to be targeted for not taking the vaccine.

Roger Bauer also addressed the board saying “There is no vaccine.” He said it was an experiment and the vaccine was not approved for anyone. He then claimed 50,000 people died from taking the shot. He then said masks did no good.

Paul Platz of Lafayette also encouraged the board to not mandate masks. His grandson was coming to the district next fall and said his family was against masks. He was concerned the mandate could come back if virus cases increased. He wanted assurance from the board the mandate would not come back.

Platz said his grandson had options to enroll at a school that will not enforce masks.

Bertrang repeated that masking is optional at this point and would not separate classes based on a mask and no mask, but said the transportation still required masks and the district could not change that. However, nothing is set in stone and the state could enforce a mandate regardless of local decisions.

The board discussed options for approving the next operation levy. Two operation levies are scheduled to expire in the next two years. The first operation levy authorized $70.32 per pupil unit and expires this fall. The second levy is $717.16 per pupil unit and expires in fall 2022. The levies were approved in 2012 and 2013.

The district will need new operating levies to replace the expired ones. One option would be to hold two referendums in back-to-back years. Another option is to revoke the two existing referendums and authorize a new referendum that would combine the per-pupil formula. This would mean only holding a single election instead of two. The per-pupil formula would not change.

The board preferred the single election option. The board also has the option of including a second question on the ballot to increase revenue by $200 per adjusted pupil to help fund the new Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.

A motion to pass the resolution was made by board member Christie Dewanz with a second from Jonathan Schiro and was passed by the board.

The special election for the referendum revenue authorization would be scheduled for Tuesday, November 2. The first question on the ballot would ask for permission to revoke the two previous authorizations in favor of the new combined authorization. The second question on the ballot would be asked for additional revenue for the CTE programming.

The board agreed to renew membership with the Minnesota State High School League (MSHL). This is an annual resolution the board needs to approve. Bertrang said there were several controversies last year with MSHL because the league changed membership fees part-way through the school year, quadrupling the membership fee.

The finance department worked to structure financing MSHL to prevent relying as much on membership schools, but there was going to be an increase in membership this year. However, if the MSHL profits after the season are over, the extra funds will be prorated back to the schools. The final billing will come out once all membership resolutions have been passed.

Open house events will be held for all schools from 3:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, August 24, and Wednesday, August 25.

The next school board study session will be held 5 p.m. Thursday, August 12, in the District Conference Room, 414 South Payne Street. The next regular school board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, August 26, in the District Boardroom and through teleconference or electronic means, 414 South Payne Street.

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