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St. Paul Public Schools board votes down resolution to make masks optional

The school board ultimately voted down the resolution to make masks optional.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Masking: It still remains a controversial topic — even two years into the pandemic.

During a school board meeting Tuesday, St. Paul Public Schools took mask mandates up again, but this time, with a resolution to drop the mandate and make them optional.

Public comment showed supporters on both sides of the issue.

"Hi, my name is Zoey. We should keep masks because they're safer," a little girl said. "People think we shouldn't keep masks because COVID rates are low, but if we stop doing things to protect ourselves from COVID, COVID rates will just go higher."

"Why are our children still in masks when they have been lifted everywhere else?" one mom asked. "If anything, it should be optional."

St. Paul Public Schools Director of Health and Wellness Mary Langworthy presented this recommendation:

"Effective 12:01 a.m. on March 28, that we move forward with the following changes: Masks are not required with low- to medium-community case rates in Ramsey County," Langworthy said while presenting a slide with numbers.

Langworthy further explained that if and when there are high community transmission rates, they would automatically reinstate the mandate.

However, the measure failed to pass with a 2-3 vote. Concerned board members argued taking action, based on numbers that would be delivered with a delay, would be too late.

"If it was from the previous week's data, we receive it the following Thursday and then we implement masks on Monday, we'd be implementing it from previous weeks' data though, correct?" board member Chauntyll Allen said. "So, the surge would be happening, basically. It would already be happening — we wouldn't have masks, we would find out about it on Thursday, and we would implement masks Monday — but from Tuesday or Wednesday the week before until Thursday, students would still be walking around without masks as the surge is existing."

With a decision to drop mandates, St. Paul Public Schools remains one of the few large districts in the country to still require masks in schools.

Indoor masking rules have been lifted in both Washington state and Oregon, while their largest school districts in Seattle and Portland have also dropped their mandates.

New York City's public school district is currently mask optional.

Even some districts in Florida, which went against Governor Ron DeSantis' ban on mask mandates, have started easing restrictions.

SPPS Superintendent Joe Gothard — even though he did not vote — shared his thoughts on moving forward with the mandates lifted.

"One of the assumptions I have to be careful making is, if cases do go up and the hospital systems do become overwhelmed, is it because COVID is being transmitted in our schools? I don't think that's the case; I think it's a combination of a number of things."

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