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Face coverings to stay in place in Brainerd Public Schools

My recommendation is to continue in-person learning at all levels for our entire district. We will only move into an online learning model if there's an outbreak. If there is an outbreak, the board will be informed, the public will be informed, and we will make a decision.” ~ Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson

Laine Larson
Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson explains Wednesday to the Brainerd School Board what the administration recommendation is for the COVID-19 Response Plan. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch

Students and staff in the Brainerd Public Schools will remain in masks for the time being.

The Brainerd School Board — which previously voted for a mask mandate in the schools — met in a special school board meeting Wednesday, Sept. 29, and heard an update on the number of COVID-19 cases in the schools.

Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn said, as of Tuesday, six staff members and 50 students at Brainerd Public Schools have tested positive for COVID-19 since school started Sept. 7. Additionally, there were nine staff members and 143 students who are currently absent due to experiencing COVID-19 symptoms and are waiting for test results.

In Crow Wing County, there were 316 children who have tested positive for COVID-19 since Sept. 5. In Crow Wing County as of Sept. 23, there were a total of 8,071 cases, 433 people were hospitalized and 102 deaths.

Superintendent Laine Larson said with an increased number of COVID-19 cases in children under 18, school administration recommends that the school board keep the face covering mandate in place. Larson said administrators will continue to watch the COVID-19 case numbers with hopes that the numbers will go down and the district can look at removing the mandate

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“My recommendation is to continue in-person learning at all levels for our entire district,” Larson said. “We will only move into an online learning model if there's an outbreak. If there is an outbreak, the board will be informed, the public will be informed, and we will make a decision.”

Larson said the safety of all the students and staff will continue to be the priority.

Administration is developing a “2021-22 COVID-19 Response Plan and Decision-Making Matrix” to help guide the district moving forward to make informed decisions on the face covering mandate. Hahn said the district is looking at the number of cases from the county, and are using that data to guide their mitigation plans.

Administration will keep track of new COVID-19 cases every 14 days in the county and have mitigation plans in place. Depending on the number of positive cases at each of the school buildings, the district would determine when face coverings would be mandated, or strongly recommended indoors, regardless of vaccine status. They are looking to have a plan and then have it on the school website for everyone to track the status of COVID-19 cases and the mask mandate.

In the end, board members made no decisions, but expressed their frustrations.

Board Chair Ruth Nelson said, “Our main goal through all this is to keep our kids in the classroom with their teachers. ... I think right now we are getting down in the weeds and we need to step back. Right now we know our numbers in the county are going up so we don’t want to make any changes because our numbers look pretty good considering that.

“I say let’s stay the course and I think that is the recommendation.”

School Board Member Kevin Boyles he was fine with staying the course with the face covering mandate until further discussion at their Oct. 11 meeting.

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“I think we need to have a much more definitive conversation,” Boyles said on how the COVID-19 Response Plan will work. “What I would anticipate and want to see at the next board meeting is a visual aid or live dashboard or whatever it is that is easy enough for everybody in this room to understand ... so that if I get an email I can direct them there and they can see for themselves exactly what's driving the decision making process for recommendations for masking or not masking because it's murky ... right now.”

School Board Member Tom Haglin said he is disappointed as he was hoping to have more data by now for the board to make a decision with the COVID-19 Response Plan, and now they would have to wait another two weeks to decide.

“I’ve had more emails on this issue than anything else,” Haglin said. “And here we are and we don’t have it. I cannot tell anyone in our community what basis we are going to go by to decide when masks will be removed. I no longer know.”

Laine Larson
Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson explains Wednesday to the Brainerd School Board what the administration recommendation is for the COVID-19 Response Plan. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch

“I’m disappointed, too,” Larson responded. “The school district hasn’t been given any guidance at all from the legislators or the state this year on what those lines are. We don’t know. Every school is doing this on their own. None of us are experts in this, none of us went to school to deal with COVID. We went to take care of kids and to love kids and to provide an education.

“We don’t know how to do this.”

Board Member Jana Shogren said, “We are all doing the best we can do with what we have. We may not agree 100%, and you will get a lot of feedback about this and it is not easy. There is no exact right or wrong answer, but I really do believe we've all done the best we can with the guidance that we do have from the experts.”

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Boyles added that the staff have done great work with what they have.

“It’s been a nightmare and the state and federal government just dropped it in our laps,” he said. “We get no help from them. You feel like we are assaulting you. We are under constant assault from both sides of the issue from the community at your level and at our level. Nobody wins here, but we are here to support you. We've just got to figure out how to roll in the same direction.”

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at jennifer.kraus@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5851. Follow me at www.twitter.com/jennewsgirl on Twitter.

Hahn
Brainerd School Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn gives a COVID-19 update Wednesday to the Brainerd School Board. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch

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