Disposable masks. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

Petersburg School Board adopted a new COVID mitigation plan Tuesday night that keeps masking in place but loosens some other protocols. The plan shortens quarantine times for positive cases and no longer requires travel testing. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

The vote to adopt the plan was split, 3 to 2. The differences in opinion surrounded the masking policy, which got the most public attention.

The school board received a lot of letters and they heard from people at the meeting both for and against masking.

5th grade teacher, Vanessa Miller, asked for optional masking, saying masks don’t protect the children and her own kids don’t like them. She said she is an educator not the mask police.

“I believe they should have a choice, I strongly believe that. I believe that this is America, we have choices and we have control of that,” Miller said. “Right now I’m feeling like their voice is not heard. The masks have caused stress and anxiety in my kids, they want to breathe air just as God has intended them to do.”

3rd grade teacher, Becky Martin, supported universal masking in all three schools, saying that it will help kids stay in the classroom. She said positive cases are “far more detrimental than masking.”

“During remote learning this year, my class had a 50 percent attendance average,” Martin said. “And my struggling students, usually those that don’t participate virtually, fall even farther behind.”

The school board came to the meeting having discussed the issue for a few hours already in a work session. This time, there were two main options on the table. One—which ended up passing– kept universal masking. The other option included masking-on- the-move at the elementary school, allowing students to go without masks in their classrooms.

“We can all agree that our goal is to have kids in school learning,” said board member, Meg Litster. She voted for loosening masking at the elementary school even though she said masks help stop the spread of the virus.

Litster said she was still concerned about the vulnerable population that can’t mask or vaccinate for medical reasons and she was concerned about children not staying in school because of quarantines. But in the end, she leaned towards individual accountability.

“Now that vaccines are widely available it is time to move towards personal choice and accountability,” Litster said.

Jay Lister was the other no vote. He didn’t speak much on the issue.

The other three board members wanted to keep universal masking for the time being, which was what the administration recommended.

School Board President Sarah Holmgrain said she was open to reconsidering a change at their next meeting, February 8th.

“I am not opposed at all to considering the masking-on-the-move for K-5 grade but I am really just worried about what the next two weeks look like with the rise in cases,” said Holmgrain.

Board member Katie Holmlund said she had been on the fence until the meeting. She said she had planned to loosen masking policies when everyone could get vaccinated but ultimately she looked at what their mission was.

“My personal strategy was to go back to our board policies and our goals for student learning, our goals for our school district, and what we have set out to accomplish for students for our community.” Holmlund said. “And that’s what my vote will be aligning with.”

Board member Carey Case also supported universal masking but said she wants to see it on their agenda again. She said she is open to considering a change—like what was presented to the board as Option 2– but not right now.

“At this point in time, I don’t feel comfortable with option 2,” Case said. “I do think that we’re seeing lots of things changing, we’re accomplishing some objectives of unburdening the staff with some of the contact tracing, getting away from some of those things. We are hearing from our medical experts, which I do put stock in.”

The school will no longer contact trace for students and staff, according to the new plan. The schools are expecting families to do that now. Only positive cases are required to quarantine, not close contacts. The quarantine time has been shortened to 5 days, down from 10. So, students can return on day 6 with masking. Parents will be notified when there is a positive case within their kid’s class but families will be responsible for testing their child. It is up to the parents to report positives to the school where they can get free take home tests.

Travel testing is now recommended but no longer required.

Students in secondary activities still must test twice a week.

Disposable N-95 masks are available to students at school, according to the plan.


Here are the details of the new mitigation plan that was approved Jan. 18.

If You Test Positive for COVID-19 

Everyone, regardless of vaccination status:

  • Stay home for 5 full days isolating away from others.  Day 0 is the day of a positive viral test. Day 1 is the first full day after your test specimen was collected. If you have COVID-19 or have symptoms, isolate for at least 5 days.
  • If you have no symptoms after 5 days, you may return to school on day 6. 
  • Continue to wear a mask around others for 5 additional days upon returning to school.

*Individuals must be fever free for a minimum of 24 hours before returning. 

If You Were Exposed to Someone with COVID-19 at school

  • You will be notified via email/ ONE CALL if the exposure was at school.
  • Monitor for symptoms for 10 days after exposure / Stay home if sick.
  • Daily at-home antigen testing before school for 5 consecutive days.
  • Recommended PCR test on day 5 (Call PMC  to schedule test 907-772-5788).
  • If you have symptoms at any time, quarantine and take an antigen test or schedule a PCR test at PMC.
  • The school must be notified of any positive test results.  Negative test results do not need to be reported and are not tracked.

If you plan to travel or have returned from travel

  • Contact the school office to pick up your free at-home antigen test kits (as supplies are available).
  • Daily at-home antigen testing  before school for 5 consecutive days upon return.  
  • Recommended PCR test on day 5 after your return (Call PMC  to schedule test 907-772-5788).
  • The school must be notified of any positive test results.  Negative test results do not need to be reported and are not tracked.

**Regardless of vaccination status, If you develop symptoms at any time get a test and stay home.

Symptoms may include:

  • A temperature of 100.4 or greater in the last 72 hours
  • Cough or Sore Throat or Shortness of Breath 
  • Chills, Muscle Pain Runny or Stuffy Nose 
  • Headache, Vomiting, or Diarrhea 
  • New Loss of Taste or Smell 

Any questions regarding this information can be directed to the Petersburg School District Nurse or the School Office  at 1-877-526-7656.