ROCHESTER, Minn. - Tuesday's Rochester Public School Board meeting got off to a late start after some members of the public refused to wear a mask.
RPS requires face coverings inside all district buildings in order to prevent transmission of COVID-19. However, with multiple attendees choosing not to mask as the board meeting began, district leaders chose to recess until everyone present was in compliance.
"At this time, I request respectfully that you think of your health, and probably more important, the health of others in this community... who are susceptible to COVID, and please wear a mask at this time. If anyone in the room chooses not to, we will recess," said School Board Chair Jean Marvin. Moments later, Marvin continued "I can see we have a few people here who feel that it's important to not mask. So at this time, we are in recess."
Though multiple tense exchanges took place between members of the public and others, the school board meeting ultimately continued 30 minutes later. The meeting's public comment period also saw passionate remarks in favor and against face coverings.
"While I can only represent myself, I know there are many, many other parents and community members who share the following sentiment - thank you for requiring masks in all Rochester Public Schools buildings. Until our youngest students have been vaccinated, this is the best way to protect them, and all Rochester Public Schools from illness, and in order to keep our schools open," one speaker said.
Another member of the public told the board, "your masking policy is not consistent with anything that is good or decent in this world, and in my opinion, actually constitutes perilous disregard for the health and well-being of our children. There is only one remedy for this. We require the resignation of everyone on this board that is participating in this fraud."
School board members later voted to allow Interim Superintendent Dr. Kent Pekel to adjust the district's masking policies without board approval going forward. However, Dr. Pekel will still have to consult with Chair Marvin, and the school board will be able to walk back any changes made to face covering policies at subsequent meetings.
The school board's policy committee believes authorizing the superintendent's office to make decisions on masking will allow the district to respond more quickly when coronavirus conditions change.