Tri-County School to open year without mask mandate
As of now, when Tri-County students and staff members enter the school building to begin the school year, they won’t have to wear masks, but may if they so choose. This represented just one of several topics Tri-County Superintendent-Principal Michael Gadbois and Tri-County School Board members discussed as part of the school’s Safe Return to In-Person Learning Plan.
“All districts north of 94 and west, basically, right now (they’re) going to go with no masks,” Gadbois said. “However, many of them are changing their language… if you read them, (they) could be seen as a little soft recommendation or that it’s okay to and some are putting in language that is more strongly recommend based on CDC guidelines.”
Gadbois highlighted how the CDC, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minnesota Department of Education are saying that schools should mask up, but are leaving the issue within local control.
Tri-County will continue to offer in-person learning to all of its students. As for masks or face coverings, current requirements make it optional, but students and staff will be supported if they so choose to wear one. Students and staff will have to wear masks on the bus, due to a current public transportation mandate.
“There might be a lot of staff or students that mask,” board member Raeya Hanson said.
“I have no doubt there will be and that’s a whole nother piece,” Gadbois said. “They talked about not mask shaming and bullying.”
Also under this plan, social distancing is not required. Board member Karrah Oliver did mention a three-feet social distancing, versus the previous six-feet, being recommended by the state.
As for health screening, all students and staff are being asked to conduct a daily health self-screen and stay home when sick. Vaccinations are not required for students to attend school.
Tri-County does still have to report positive cases to local public health, but contact tracing is a local decision. As noted in the school’s plan, the close contact issue still remains undecided, as no guidance has been released yet related to whether or not schools need to implement exclusion practices after a COVID exposure. Last school year, those students exposed to COVID had to quarantine to watch for symptoms.
Gadbois mentioned starting a decision team related to COVID. He later stated how if there’s enough people for it, they should set up a day and time to meet.
Board member Denise Sollund responded how this group would have the same role as it had before. Hanson added how with this committee it would be more about it helping make certain decisions if the COVID issue reaches a certain level, for example reducing who comes into the building.
“As of right now, it would appear in that meeting I was on with all the superintendents, everybody is sticking with their plans of no masking,” Gadbois said. “Now, it doesn’t mean that they are going to do exactly what we’re doing, going to do, which is because of the changes from June till now. We need to look at that and go maybe we’re not going to require anything, but we’re going to put in some protocols and practices, such as social distancing… But again, that’s a decision that needs to be made with the discussion with the right individuals.”
Gadbois mentioned how schools are not required to provide distance learning. Oliver asked if any schools in the area were offering distance learning as of now and Gadbois said no. He did mention how all schools are submitting a provisional distance learning plan if there comes a time they need to use it.
“At some point then it would get to if one’s doing it (distance learning) and now another’s not and we’re needing to do it… you have a responsibility, obviously, to try to figure out how to provide education,” Gadbois said, “if we have groups out or we have to shut down for a period of time or whatever it is, and/or droves of parents start to pull their kids.”
Under its plan, the school is asking community members who would like to see changes to this plan to contact the superintendent to share their ideas and concerns. The school’s Safe Return to In-Person Learning plan is available on the school website’s homepage (tricounty.k12.mn.us).
Gadbois said, “A lot of hard decisions to be made… under this new environment.”
To see the full school board story, read the August 26 issue of the North Star News in print or online.