School board member Kern speaks out against district mask mandate

Director Sue Kern decried Gov. Tim Walz's mask mandate — and the district's enforcement of it — as a harmful, unnecessary measure this coming school year.

Washington Educational Services Building
Washington Educational Services Building in Brainerd. Dispatch file photo
Dispatch file photo

A Brainerd School Board member spoke out against districtwide mask mandates, characterizing requirements to wear face coverings as a health risk, a threat to children’s well-being and a potential infringement on civil liberties.

Member Sue Kern was unsparing in her comments during a board meeting Monday, Aug. 24, in which she denounced the mask mandate as grounds for shaming and violating federal laws restricting release of medical information. Coupled with the potential to exacerbate respiratory ailments for some people, Kern said she could not support a mask mandate that, in her opinion, is based in feel-good, propagandistic ploys by federal authorities.

“I would like to add that there is a controversy on whether face masks, or shields, are effective or not,” Kern said. “I heard Dr. (Anthony) Fauci — who is at the federal level, who’s giving advice to our president and to people in authority — say that they are not effective. They just make people feel better. But my argument is it doesn’t make people feel better. I think it’s upsetting.”

Sue Kern JPG.jpg
Sue Kern


Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a preeminent expert, previously stated federal authorities made a misstep when they downplayed the value of face masks early in the pandemic, but has repeatedly urged the public to wear face coverings to blunt the spread of COVID-19.

It should be noted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the American Medical Association and the Office of the U.S. Surgeon General — among a litany of medical associations, publications and agencies across the globe — have all confirmed face coverings are proven, by empirical study, to thwart the spread of COVID-19, particularly in communities where everyone wears face coverings during gatherings.

Kern’s comments came after the meeting opened with the reading of an email addressed to the board from her husband Doug Kern, who wrote, in part:

“My main concern is not just violations of HIPAA laws by administrator staff — who do not understand the laws — but the shaming into wearing anything that restricts breathing precious oxygen,” Doug Kern’s email stated, as read by Community Education Director Cori Reynolds. “If this shaming happens with administration staff, how will students with similar breathing problems be dealt with, students who have anxiety, other health issues or mental health issues? Will they be required to wear a badge saying ‘Exempt’ and why they are exempt?”

Doug Kern’s email stated he did not know where government authority ends and personal responsibility begins and this issue highlighted that. Furthermore, the email stated that offering students the option to study from home to avoid situations where masks are required was, itself, another form of shaming.

“I just think we’re disrespecting our educational professionals and our staff as well,” Sue Kern later said. “I just don’t think we need a policy like this. It’s going to be extremely difficult to enforce.”

Human Resources Director Angie Bennet noted employees would only be required to provide medical certification — or, in simple terms, a doctor’s note and relevant information regarding their circumstances — in the event they are unable to wear a cotton mask or, as an alternative less-restrictive measure, a plastic shield. This is, in part, based on the necessity to accommodate employees based on their particular needs, Bennet noted, which have to be verified by the district to pursue accordingly.

In turn, board members Ruth Nelson and Charles Black Lance noted the district’s careful attention to protocol and formulation of a strict, step-by-step process for enforcing the mask mandate or making accommodations for exemptions was based, in large part, on the concerns and questions of both families and district employees.


Ruth Nelson

These people are deeply concerned about their well-being, Black Lance said, and it’s the school’s duty to ensure the learning environment is safe for students, teachers, other district employees and visitors, as well as whoever they may come into contact with at a later time.

“This is about the safety of our children, about the safety of my children,” Black Lance said in conclusion.

“We’re hearing the question every day — ‘What are you doing, are you doing enough to ensure the safety of our communities?’” Nelson added. “We do have a lot of staff members that are coming to work every day that are high risk. They want to ensure that we’re protecting them as well as the students.”

Charles Black Lance
Charles Black Lance

The policy

Sue Kern’s opposition centered around the Minnesota School Boards Association policy No. 808, which entails the mask mandate signed by Gov. Tim Walz requiring district employees, teachers, students and visitors to wear face coverings in school facilities to stop the spread of COVID-19. Monday’s meeting had a second reading of the policy as part of its agenda. Ultimately, Sue Kern was the lone vote against the policy’s second reading, which passed on a 5-1 tally among board members. These standards apply to district facilities, the grounds and outdoor properties owned by the district, as well as district vehicles or transportation.


Employees who do not comply with these standards may be subject to job termination and removal from district properties. Students who do not comply with these standards may be subject to disciplinary action and removed from district properties.

During the meeting, district employees noted employees are required to wear face coverings. According to an accommodation process, if they are unable to wear a face covering, they will be provided a plastic face shield. If they are unable to wear a plastic face shield, they may be granted an exemption if they provide medical certification, or, simply put, a doctor’s note and relevant information regarding their circumstance.

It’s noted in the policy face coverings may include paper or disposable masks, scarves, neck gaiters, bandanas, religious face coverings, or medical-grade masks and respirators. Some exceptions may include children younger than 2 years of age who may prove “problematic” with a mask, people with a respiratory condition that’s exacerbated by wearing a face covering, or anyone who has a “developmental, medical, or behavioral health condition.” In these cases, individuals may be obligated to wear a face shield. The policy notes all students — particularly those with vulnerabilities and ailments susceptible to COVID-19 — have the option to take courses from home via e-learning.

As staff noted as well, these regulations may be relaxed for district employees when they work by themselves in an isolated capacity, like certain technicians or administrators, or if they function in areas partitioned with Plexiglas barriers. These requirements may be relaxed in outdoor settings so long as visitors, employees and students maintain social distancing of 6 feet from their peers, as well as in specific class functions — for example, forms of programming for 5-year-old kindergarten students, or music performance courses — but the policy also reserves the district the right to make case by case and situational decisions on masks “where deemed necessary for health and safety.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .

Editor's note: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated Finance Director Marci Lord spoke on the subject of face coverings. The speaker was, in actuality, Human Resources Director Angie Bennet. The Dispatch regrets this error.


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