Mankato reconsiders but again rejects mask mandate for high schoolers

The Mankato school district already requires students and staff for grades K through 8 to wear protective masks on school grounds. The school board imposed the mandate on the basis of eligibility for the vaccine, which is not available to students under the age of 12.

It appeared that high school students were in the clear from having to wear masks in the classroom and activities. But just days before the school year kicked off, the Free Press reports the school board went back to the drawing board after one member had second thoughts about the lack of a mask mandate for grades 9 through 12.

[Board member Kenneth] Reid said he has been “very conflicted” after reading news reports about coronavirus outbreaks at schools across the country that that have already started their school years.

He said he also had other concerns: that high school students won’t wear masks as recommended because of peer pressure, that there is no remote learning option this year for students who are on quarantine and that quarantines are optional after an exposure.

Reid said he also was swayed by the recommendation that quarantines are not necessary if both an infected person and a close contact were wearing masks.

“Children are getting sick,” he said. “And if we can mitigate that by having both people have their mask on — for me as an educator it goes back to the basic purpose of us being here, which is making sure that each of our students can learn.”

The two-tiered policy on masks was adopted in a tense four-hour school board meeting in August with a standing room only crowd of parents on hand. But some board members felt that reversing the previously agreed on policy for high schoolers could undermine trust in the community.

Board members Jodi Sapp and Chris Kind, who previously opposed the mask requirement at the elementary and middle schools, said they supported personal choice.

“I think we have to defer to parents. We have to defer to students,” Kind said. “Because they are the most affected by their decisions.”

Sapp also was concerned about the optics of changing the requirements without an opportunity for more public input.

“Last minute it’s going to seem like we conspired to do it this way,” she said.

The district has contingency plans in place should an outbreak occur. But for now, the Mankato School Board has reaffirmed personal choice and the rights of parents to decide what’s best for their high school age children, if not those under 12, when it comes to COVID.