Darrin Anderson - new

Darrin Anderson

Two weeks after approving a back-to-school plan that would not require masks, the Litchfield School Board last week discussed at length how to head off so-called “mask shaming.”

Chairman Darrin Anderson said he put the item on the board’s agenda, because he wants students to wear masks — or not — as they choose, without fear of reprisal or teasing from classmates or others.

As students headed back to the classroom Monday, Meeker County has seen COVID-19 cases continue to rise, with 2,843 cases reported by the Minnesota Department of Health, including 46 deaths in the county. The case rate declined in slightly in recent weeks, however, as MDH reported the infection rate in Meeker County at 13.4 for the most recent reporting period (Aug. 8-14) after a rate of 15.2 the previous week.

Statewide, according to MDH, there have been 16,095 cases among children 0 to 4 years old; 21,962 among 5-9-year-olds, 31,401 among 10-14, and 52,214 among 15-19.

The Litchfield School Board did not need to take any official action, Anderson said, since “mask shaming” would be covered under other anti-bullying policies already in place in the district. However, he said he thought it important to reinforce that it was not OK to criticize a student for their decision to either wear or not wear a face covering.

Board member Greg Mathews agreed, but he thought the board needed to make a stronger statement.

“I don’t want us to simply pay lip service to this,” Mathews said, adding that school staff “should look for this.”

Teachers and other staff should discuss the topic and be prepared to deal with it quickly and appropriately if it comes up “so that it doesn’t take off,” Mathews added.

Mask wearing has become both a “medical and political thing,” Mathews said, and he has “seen this sort of thing before” where children feel forced to make a bad decision.

Other board members challenged the idea that school staff would not react expediently to any issues regarding masks.

“We can’t allow any of that to go,” board member Alex Carlson said. “This is where I trust Mrs. (Superintendent Beckie) Simenson and administration and teachers to enforce policies. We don’t stand for any sort of bullying of our students, whether for masks or other reasons.”

Anderson agreed, saying that policies are in place to prevent bullying.

“We have followed the Dragon way for years,” Simenson said. “I don’t see that it’s any different (from) from reporting a bullying situation.”

But Mathews persisted, saying, “We’ve got to do more than wait until the victim comes forward.”

In related action later in the meeting, the board approved a safe return to school plan acknowledging the district will following Minnesota Department of Health and Centers for Disease Control guidance that masks are recommended in school. The district’s policy is subject to change, according to CDC and MDH changes in guidelines, Anderson said.

The only area where masks are still required — in according to federal regulations — is on buses as students are transported to and from school.