By Bruce Karnick [email protected] A letter went out last week to parents of Hastings High School students alerting them to the change that, effective Monday, October 11, masks must be worn …
By Bruce Karnick
A letter went out last week to parents of Hastings High School students alerting them to the change that, effective Monday, October 11, masks must be worn indoors at the high school as designated in the “2021 Return to in-person learning plan” Masking is required at the High School once the district reaches the “High” category for the previous 14 days of new cases. High is defined as 50 or more new cases per 10,000 people. The county COVID numbers are at 46 per 10,000, but the school board opted to go with district numbers. The district number has reached 51.4 according to Minnesota School Opening Statistics. This change will remain in effect for a minimum of two weeks from Oct. 11.
According to the letter, “Beginning Monday, October 11 all persons inside Hastings High School before, during and after school hours when students are present will be required to wear a mask or face covering regardless of vaccination status. Communication about specific athletics, fine arts and co-curricular activities will be provided by the coaches and advisors.”
There was also a mention of a link to protocols in the text of the letter.
Finding the athletic protocols online without the link being provided has proven challenging. The only details easily accessible can be found on www.hastings.k12.mn.us there you click on “about us” and then “2021 Return to In-Person Learning Plan.” From there, you can navigate through some of the details laid out by the school board.
Mask exemptions are available but based on the descriptions of the reasons for an exemption, and a conversation with a parent that applied for the exemption, the exemptions are difficult to receive. The exemptions for masking regarding a medical reason require “documentation from a medical authority.”
The non-medical exemption for masks is only for one reason, and that reason is extremely specific. A non-medical exemption is for religious reasons only and only if the mask would interfere with the wearing of religious attire that is worn as part of a sincerely held religious belief. But the district will consider if the student has worn the attire previously and if granted, the same mitigation strategies listed above for the medical waiver may be imposed.
One parent spoke about their experience on a condition of anonymity. This parent filed for a religious exemption for their student. The parent felt they do not have to defend their religious beliefs. Their exemption was denied because the wearing of the mask did not interfere with their child wearing a religious article of clothing.
During lunch, the school will spread students out in the commons as best as they can. Those wishing to do so may go outside to two predetermined locations. Students may go outside the student entrance under the canopy and on the patio to the west of the commons. Face coverings are not required to be worn outside. Students are expected to stay in these two locations. Students may not go to their vehicles or go to other areas on campus.
The letter concluded with this message, “If at any time you should have any questions, please feel free to contact me directly at 651-480-7474. Thank you – Mike Johnson, HHS Principal.”
According to posts on social media, there were families not thrilled with the requirement and some students opted to voice their displeasure by not wearing a mask. There were reports of 20 or so students that were sent home for the day because of refusing to wear a mask.
One student, Teran Connell, spoke to the Hastings Journal regarding how the morning went.
“I walked in with a group of about 20 students, ranging from sophomores to seniors. When we walked in the doors, they had their mask mandate signs up, and there were a few kids that were talking to some teachers that were around the door. There were some administration people around the door, and we walked in. A few of the kids got stopped by the teachers and obviously they couldn’t stop us all, and so we went to our classes. I sat down in my class and talked to a few kids, the bell rung, the teacher came in and took attendance. Then she looked at me and a few other students that were joining me, and she told us that we needed to go down to the student office to get a mask. And I told her that was OK, and we all grabbed our stuff and we walked down to the student office. We were met by a group of about 20 students or so similar to the group that I’d walked in with plus a few different people that I hadn’t seen before and they’re talking to that principal Mike Johnson and athletic director, Trent Hanson. They were telling us that we had two options and we were either put a mask on and go back into class, or we were to go home and do online schooling, and that was pretty much the options given to us.”
Connell explained the kids stayed and discussed the issues with the two administrators. At the front of the discussion was how students that were sent home were going to get their assignments. Students sent home are being treated as if they are sick. For every day they miss of school, they are given two days to make up the work. If the student is staying home for the entirety of the mask mandate, they will have, as of right now, at least 10 days of schoolwork to make up if the mandate is relaxed after the first two weeks. The other aspect of being out sick is students cannot participate in after school activities, including athletics.
Before leaving the school, Connell made sure to get a written and signed letter from principal Johnson stating that he cannot come to Hastings High School without a mask because they will refuse to let him in.
As far as alternate options for schooling, there appears to be no official online option as of Monday.
Connell did say that both Johnson and Hanson were very respectful during the discussions and that they were simply enforcing the rules the school board set.
When asked why he and his classmates decided to stand up to the school, Connell said this, “It collides with my beliefs and my rights. But we can go back and forth on that all day. For me it’s more about making sense, because they, you know, they started the year without masks, and they didn’t give us a whole lot of direction, they just told us it was optional as of now. Now, you know, implying the mask mandate is for two weeks, I don’t see the, the goal. If people feel safer with a mask, they can put one on and if they don’t, they should have the choice not too. Obviously, I want people to be safe and if they feel safer with a mask, with all due respect, that’s great for you, but I do not feel safer with a mask, and I should have the right to choose that.”