The East Grand Forks School Board unanimously passed the Safe Return to In-Person Learning Plan Monday night, Aug. 23, after a raucous meeting that saw one parent escorted out as he accused a representative of the UND Medical School of lying about the safety of vaccines.
The version of the plan that was passed includes a recommendation, but not a requirement, that East Grand Forks students wear masks in school buildings, and exempts students and staff who are fully vaccinated from quarantining if they are identified as a close contacts.
The East Grand Forks meeting wasn't the only one Monday that included upset audience members. A brief School Board meeting in Grand Forks also included a strong response from residents. During the meeting at the Hilton Garden Inn, approximately three dozen people came to voice opposition to the Grand Forks School Board’s recent decision to require masks in school buildings this coming school year. After they learned public comment would not be allowed, several in the group spoke loudly across the room to board members, one calling the board members “cowards.”
In East Grand Forks, the district's COVID-19 incident command team will continue to meet weekly with Polk County Public Health about the evolving COVID-19 situation in the area, and district Superintendent Mike Kolness emphasized that the plan will be highly fluid, and might need to be changed with little notice in the case of a surge of cases in the school community.
Yes 56% No 44%
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The meeting got off to a confused start, as School Board Chairman Brandon Boespflug asked audience members in attendance to write their names down if they wished to address the board. One audience member accused Boespflug of attempting to silence them as Boespflug explained that the meeting had to be run according to procedure.
In total, four parents and one student formally addressed the board. Three of those parents spoke vehemently against masking in schools. Of those three, two claimed they would move out of the East Grand Forks School District if masking becomes a requirement at any point during the school year.
Among the parents addressing the board was Dr. Don Warne, associate dean of the UND Medical School and the director of the university's public health program.
"We've heard a lot of statements about the American dream, and not wanting to be forced to get inoculations or vaccinations," he said to the board. "But we've required vaccinations for the school for other types of diseases. This is just a new one that happens to be here because of a once-in-a-century pandemic."
Warne was cut off as another parent began shouting from the audience. The parent began making his way to the door as Kolness rose to escort him out.
"You're a physician," the parent said. "You should know you're not telling the truth. You should know the truth."
"This is the other side of the argument," Warne continued as the man left the meeting. "Getting angry and yelling and accusing people of not knowing. That's the other side of the argument. What I'm telling you is the science, and what I'm telling you is the truth. If the kids aren't wearing masks, COVID is going to run rampant in the school. So this is our one chance to have in-person learning."