A Petersburg School Board work session was interrupted by disgruntled parents Thursday night. The board had gathered to discuss COVID mitigations. As Angela Denning reports, the masking policy was at the center of the controversy.

The work session was a way for the school board to discuss their masking and testing policies at length before voting on them at their next regular meeting. The board’s last regular meeting lasted four hours. In work sessions, no action is taken or public testimony. But people showed up to the high school library anyway.

About 10 minutes into the meeting, one attendee began yelling at the school board. Currently, district policy requires everyone to mask inside of school buildings. But Jennifer and Derek Thynes didn’t want to. They were offered masks but refused.

Jennifer Thynes: “Why would wear masks to this ridiculous…whatever it is…the fraud that you are..

Sarah Holmgrain, School Board President: “Because it’s policy right now.”

Jennifer Thynes:  “This is asinine. Stop smothering my child! Let the kids be free, stop your political bull crap, and knock it off! It’s done! We’re done with this crap!”

Erica Kludt-Painter, Superintendent:  “We hear you, this is not a time for those comments, though.”

Jennifer Thynes:  “I don’t care what your meeting says…I was here to make a statement, I’ve made it!”

The couple was escorted out of the building while continuing to chastise school officials. Local law enforcement was called to the school but the couple had left.

At the meeting, the school board went over feedback they’ve received from the public. The school district has been circulating an online survey and they’d received about 200 responses so far. They are figuring out how to make them public because Superintendent Erica Kludt-Painter says some should not be shared.

“There are several comments that are not fit for public consumption,” Kludt-Painter said. “I mean they’re not appropriate, there’s cursing; there are things that are just not appropriate for really any venue.”

There is no way to know who sent all the comments because names were optional. There’s also no limit as to how many times one person could respond. But of the messages that were received, most wanted loosened mitigation measures like no masking. 55 percent disagreed with the district’s overall plan, 30 percent agreed with it, and 15 percent were neutral.

For masking specifically, 60 percent wanted a looser masking policy, 21 percent liked the plan as is, and 16 percent wanted it stricter.

The school board seems split on the issue.

Sarah Holmgrain and Katie Holmlund spoke in favor of continuing universal masking to help keep kids in school.

For Cheryl File and Jay Lister it was less certain.

“I’m still kind of on the fence,” File said. “I think that high school could probably go with no masking, and possibly middle school, and optional in elementary.”

Lister said he supports masking only if it’s needed.

“Masking I think should be if it’s necessary,” Lister said. “If it’s not necessary then I don’t think we should. [And I’m] trying to figure out where that’s at.”

Board member, Megan Litster did not attend the work session.

The school board also talked about contact tracing and how that would change if the masking policy changed. And they talked about the travel testing policy.  

District officials meet every Tuesday with a physician from the local medical center and public health to go over the latest guidance.

The next regular school board meeting is Sept. 14 at 6 p.m. in the high school library and online via Ring Central. It is open to the public. The district is stressing that those attending in person must follow Board Policy procedures and the masking policy.  The deadline for written comments is 4 p.m. Monday to ensure the board has time to receive them.  Here is a link to the survey.