WORTHINGTON — Two community members gave their opinions about District 518’s face masking requirement for staff, students and visitors, and a third stressed the importance of inclusion and accessibility at Tuesday's District 518 Board of Education meeting.

“My husband and I have three children in this district. My kindergartner has never known school without a mask, and this sickens me,” said Jacki Bomgaars, who spoke during the public participation portion of the meeting.

She expressed concerns that masks could impede communication, and that the mask mandates could potentially continue until her “kindergartner has graduated.”

Bomgaars encouraged any others who share her opinion to stand up and be heard.

“Perhaps you’re not comfortable speaking in front of the school board for others. Let your voices still be heard, and I don’t mean just on social media,” Bomgaars said. “You can call your district office, voice your concerns or send an email.”

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Mike Luft was the second community member to speak against District 518’s face mask requirement.

“You know, this COVID is never gonna go away. It’s gonna be with us forever. So is this our new normal?” he asked. “Is this what we’re subject to, every year? Every year, on and on and on?”

He expressed doubt about the efficacy of cloth face masks, and quoted a page on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website — an online report from October 2020 titled “Effectiveness of Cloth Masks for Protection Against Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2.”

The report, quoted by Luft almost word-for-word, states: “Multilayer cloth masks, designed to fit around the face and made of water-resistant fabric with a high number of threads and finer weave, may provide reasonable protection.”

Luft repeated the word “may,” and then continued reading from the abstract: “Until a cloth mask design is proven to be equally effective as a medical or N95 mask, wearing cloth masks should not be mandated for health care workers.”

“I agree with that,” he said, adding that he feels children are as important as health care workers, and that everyone at the meeting would agree to that. “It’s time to let the parents parent. We’re not in a crisis. This is not a pandemic anymore.”

What Luft did not quote was the next line of the CDC’s online report, which states: “In community settings, however, cloth masks may be used to prevent community spread of infections by sick or asymptomatically infected persons, and the public should be educated about their correct use.”

Adyiam Kimbrough, who graduated from Worthington High School in 2015, spoke next.

“Today I’m here to respond to a Facebook post that’s been circulating,” she said. “... basically, it’s just stating that masks … could be negatively impacting our students and their education, and specifically … the ELL (English Language Learners) were mentioned.”

Kimbrough stressed the importance of including all voices in the discussion, whether it’s a question of public health or education. She said she believed masking should be a personal choice and a parent’s choice.

“But I do stress the importance of including all voices instead of just appropriating the trope of diversity of ELL students to push a personal agenda,” Kimbrough said. “It's important, and it’s crucial as a community that we put in the effort, we put in the investment, we put in the dedication to include our voices.”

That could potentially mean including language and interpretation resources and putting in the legwork to ensure people feel comfortable attending school board meetings, she said.

Vice Chair Joel Lorenz, who was chairing the meeting because Chair Lori Dudley was absent, thanked the three community members for their time.

Preventative measures

The schools’ precautions against COVID-19 came up again during Superintendent John Landgaard’s report, as he said that there were 98 people in the 10-day isolation period for COVID as of Monday. At that time, there were about 20 school-aged children with COVID, and he said nurses were also testing some students that day.

“We did meet last week with the (Nobles County COVID-19 Joint Information Team) on where we’re at and where we’re headed,” Landgaard said. “We will continue with masks for the next few weeks.”

The school’s goal is to get past the surge the medical community predicted would end at the end of September, and then make face masks optional in mid-October, he said, adding that the Incident Team agreed with that assessment.

“Ultimately, what masking does allow us to do at this point is keep in-person learning going,” Landgaard said.

If students were not masked and one got COVID, a large number of students and staff would have to quarantine due to exposure. Quarantine numbers can snowball quickly, as they did for Albert Lea public schools this year, when 36 people tested positive to COVID and 290 students had to be quarantined after just five school days.

The decision whether to maintain the mask mandate in District 518 schools is based on case numbers and data, Landgaard said.

“I think people would like to see the parents make a choice at one point,” said Adam Blume, school board member.

In other news Tuesday, the board:

  • Certified an estimated $8.26 million maximum proposed levy for 2021, payable in 2022.
  • Approved a donation from Sanford Health for the athletic trainer program.
  • Held a brief public hearing on a tax abatement request from Jeremy and Tyann Prins. No community members spoke, and the abatement for property in Rushmore was granted.
  • Learned about District 518’s teacher mentorship and instructional coaching program, which helps retain teachers in the district and supports new teachers.
  • Set the Truth in Taxation hearing for 6 p.m. Dec. 21 in the WHS media center.
  • Authorized spending $30,000 to hire a day care consultant, in partnership with Nobles County and the city of Worthington.
  • Agreed to reassign Assistant Principal Cory VanBriesen to the Intermediate School, so that Prairie and the new school will both have one assistant principal.
  • Discussed the school board’s prior commitment to a trail project on the back side of the Prairie Elementary bus loop. The school’s portion of the cost will be $25,000.
  • Approved purchasing two special education vehicles.
  • Allowed a younger student to take a role in the fall play, if no suitable high schooler can be found for it.
  • Discussed the district’s plans for its Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, which can be found in full on its website. District 518 is seeking comment from the public on the plans with a survey linked on the front page of isd518.net.
  • Approved the resignations of Krista Anderson, WHS cook; Francisca Rodriguez Balderas, WHS janitor; Toni Duerr, Worthington Middle School class II paraprofessional; Ingrid Mazariegos, Community Education ABE paraprofessional; Eric Michaels, assistant WHS football coach; Leah Gaul, WMS class II paraprofessional; Maggie Blume, Prairie Elementary class I paraprofessional; Tiffany Lamb, Nobles County Integration Collaborative cultural liaison; Barzan Ahmed, special transportation paraprofessional; Lynette Hennings, Prairie class II paraprofessional; and Austin Selvey, WMS girls basketball coach. The retirement of Tammy O’Neil, administrative assistant with special education, was also approved, effective Jan. 4, 2022.
  • Approved employment of paraprofessionals Mai Hubbard, Erika Hernandez, Selena Carranza-Amaya, Madisyn Miller, Kemberly Moreno, Maria Ayala, Raegan Sjolund, Zawdee Ploeserpoeliberty, Joselyn Berrones, Kasen White, Jennifer Garcia, Rebecca Kramer, Georgina Andrade, Dariela Juarez, Ana Hernandez, Jairo Perez, Lorenz Gonzalez and Katrienne Iwen; teachers Deb Stoll, Pam Deuel, Ruben Alvarez, Jade Nguyen, Kelly Henkels, Amanda Rueter, Bridget Smith, Laura L. Neu, Melissa Brown, Melanie Kuhl and Kesia Dominguez-Escalante; coaching staff members Javier Garcia Bastian, Matthew O’Neil, Frank Herrera and Austin Selvey; cooks Miah Kunkel and Araceli Barajas Segoviano; advisers Ann Mills and Gail Holinka; aid Stacie Soleta; secretary Victoria Garza; HR generalist Kathryn Phillips; weight room supervisor Spencer Wieneke; and Joshua Langseth as staff development/data and assessment coordinator.