Disposable masks. (Photo by Angela Denning/KFSK)

Petersburg School Board at a regular meeting Tuesday night decided to loosen the school district’s masking policy. The newly adopted plan creates a system that allows for limited masking when cases are low and optional masking when cases are very low. KFSK’s Angela Denning reports:

Two days after a vehicle convoy drove through town protesting COVID-19 mandates, about 40 people showed up in the high school library for the same reason.

A handful addressed the school board and others sent in letters.

Colleen Schwartz brought up religion and money regarding the pandemic.

“There is one judge. There is only one judge and he cannot be bribed,” Schwartz said. “Follow your conscience, develop your conscience today, right now! And follow the frickin’ money!”

4th grade teacher Shannon Vandervest said she might not sign up for teaching next year if masking didn’t change.

“I don’t want to be forced to live in this what if, fear based society,” she said. “I believe in living in the here and now. And for me the here and now is based on the fact that I’m being forced to wear a mask against my rights.”

The school district had adopted a new policy in January that loosened testing and quarantines but kept universal masking. Board member, Megan Litster, had voted against the plan. On Tuesday, she presented a new plan for the board to consider that includes thresholds for when masking would be required in each school.

“I do feel really strongly that establishing metrics or parameters is important at this juncture as cases seem to be stabilized so that we don’t get caught in a loop of saying soon but not yet,” Litster said.

The plan says families should assume masking is required every day at some point.  

It establishes a red, yellow, and green status depending on infections in the school. Green is if there have been no cases in a school’s building for 10 consecutive days, then masking becomes optional.

Red status requires universal masking. For the elementary, that would mean four or more elementary classrooms had a positive case in them. For the secondary schools, where more mixing occurs, red means three or more students were positive in the building.

The yellow status is the most detailed and encompasses what the schools have experienced most of the school year. For the elementary, yellow would be if there are three or less classrooms affected by infections. It would allow a masking-on-the-move concept where students and staff can take off their masks when they are in their individual classrooms. If someone in the classroom tests positive then the classroom moves to red status and universal masking for at least 10 days.

For the secondary schools, yellow means two students or less have been positive in the schools. It requires masking on the move in shared spaces. Students and staff can remove their masks in classrooms only if they are seated at least three feet from others.

Megan Litster says the plan will require more masking in the secondary schools because some classrooms aren’t big enough for spacing out.

“I think there’s still going to be –unfortunately—significant masking at the secondary until we’re in green,” Litster said.

The plan makes one area stricter than it has been. It requires close contacts within the same household as a positive to either quarantine for at least five days or test daily for 10 days.

The plan received unanimous support from other board members with a few minor amendments.

School Board member Carey Case supported having different rules at the different schools. She said COVID rules at the secondary level are more complicated anyway because many of those students are traveling for activities, adhering to other schools rules.

“I know personally for my student, masking is okay and doing activities, being in school is very important,” Case said.

Board member, Jay Lister, who like Megan Litster voted against universal masking last month, said the plan is taking a step in the right direction.

“I think we need to start looking for off ramps,” he said. “This isn’t where we want to be but it’s getting there a little bit.”

The person who will be crunching all the data for when the status needs to change day to day will be Trish Oppenheim, the school nurse.

The school district last month ended its contact tracing program.

Universal masking is still required on all buses, per federal mandate.