New Richmond School Board May 17, 2021

A handful of residents intent on protesting against the district’s mandatory mask mandate confronted New Richmond Superintendent Patrick Olson outside before the May 17, 2021, school board meeting. Olson was assisted by two police officers. Tom Lindfors photo

NEW RICHMOND -- Based on feedback from parents and staff collected as part of the Tiger Launch Plan, the New Richmond School Board revised its mask policy on May 12, making face coverings optional on district property beginning with the start of summer school on June 7. 

Despite the revision, a handful of residents protested against the mask mandate prior to the board’s May 17 meeting.

The residents confronted New Richmond Superintendent Patrick Olson, who was assisted by two police officers, outdoors. Protestors initially insisted that they be allowed into the meeting without wearing masks. 

Olson explained the district requires masks be worn on school property and requested that everyone put on a mask before entering the building. 

Emotions ran high as frustrated residents claimed discrimination and disputed the district’s legal right to prevent them from entering the district office without a mask. They threatened to hold their students out of school and leverage their position as taxpayers. 

Olson explained the district policy was a product of public input in conjunction with health care guidance from St. Croix County. 

Calmer heads prevailed and a number of the residents put on masks and entered the district office. 

Inside, a few people took advantage of the opportunity to make their case. 

Board Vice President Paula Kolbeck reiterated the district’s face covering policy prior to turning the mic over for public comments.

“Please note, the decisions for masks are done. We will wear masks through the end of the school year and we will stop wearing them effective at the end of that,” she said.

Resident Katie Palmer addressed the board on behalf of her three Starr Elementary students thanking them for their decision to make masks optional starting June 7, 2021.

“I really appreciate you being open to parental comments and for hearing us out and for doing the survey, for getting a feel for what the parents wanted. I appreciate that and I hope that going forward through the rest of the summer and into the fall we can continue to improve our situation first with the masks and then contact tracing and all the other things that have been the extras this year,” she said.

Middle school student T.J. Squires described different disciplinary actions taken by his homeroom teacher to segregate several students for failing to wear their masks properly.

Harley Sain presented a photo of a student facing a wall as an example of unfair treatment and he voiced his concern about how students electing not to wear a mask will be treated in the fall.   Sain concluded by presenting a list of agenda items: end masks forever; end contract tracing; end late start Wednesdays; end remote learning for good; and stop staff from targeting students who are unmasked and unvaccinated.

Melissa Squires made her case that students were struggling to learn due to the mask mandate. 

“They can’t focus with a mask on their face all day. They can’t breath with a mask over their face all day,” she said, adding “They are already behind because of the beautiful idea of remote learning and close contact quarantine.”

Squires also asserted her right to send her children to school unvaccinated.

“My children are not going to be vaccinated. I am not going to be vaccinated and my kids are going to go to school because it is my choice,” she said.

 

Readers can reach Tom Lindfors at tom@lindforsphoto.com.

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