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Grand Forks School Board hears angry residents' comments on mask mandate; East Grand Forks meeting includes upset parents, too

The meeting of the East Grand Forks School Board Monday also included comments from angry parents.

gf school board masks .jpg
Approximately three dozen residents attended the meeting of the Grand Forks School Board on Monday, Aug. 23, 2021. (Pamela Knudson/Grand Forks Herald)
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Residents upset by discussions about masks in public schools attended Monday evening's meetings of the Grand Forks and East Grand Forks school boards.

In Grand Forks, about 35 protesters crowded along the back of a meeting room at the Hilton Garden Inn to voice opposition to the Grand Forks School Board’s recent decision to require masks in school buildings this upcoming school year.

When 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” and declaring they should all be voted out -- except for Bill Palmiscno, who voted against the mask mandate at a special board meeting last week.

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Another said the board should “stand up to the medical people” and Erin McSparron questioned public health data on children that led to the mask mandate decision. Jeremiah Neubert, who said he has children entering 12th, eighth and fifth grades, spoke against the mandate and asked why the group was not allowed to address the board.

Tuesday morning, district spokeswoman Tracy Jentz said the agenda for the meeting was kept short in order to allow sufficient time for the board retreat/training that followed.

Signs held up by some in the audience read: “Keep your rules off our face,” “Is that mask protecting you or infecting you?,” “Stop suffocating me!,” “My body, my choice,” “Stop the Madness,” “My Civil Rights Matter,” and “Kids Don’t Get It, Kids Don’t Spread It!”

Meanwhile, the East Grand Forks School Board also heard from angry parents Monday evening. During the EGF meeting, four parents and one student formally addressed the board. Three of those parents spoke vehemently against masking in schools and of those three, two claimed they will move out of the East Grand Forks School District if masking becomes a requirement at any point during the school year.

article7165917.ece POLL: Do you think schools should require students to wear masks in schools? Do you think schools should require students to wear masks in schools? Yes No

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Among the parents addressing the board was Dr. Don Warne, associate dean of the UND Medical School and 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 a parent began shouting from the audience.

"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.

The East Grand Forks School Board on Monday chose a recommendation, but not a requirement, that East Grand Forks students wear masks in school buildings. The plan exempts students and staff who are fully vaccinated from quarantining if they are identified as close contacts.

Back in Grand Forks, a uniformed Grand Forks police officer, Cpl. Jessica Thorlacius, was keeping watch at Monday's meeting. She said police attendance at School Board meetings “is a typical part of our duties.” The public has a right to "peaceful protest," she said.

Board members Palmiscno and Jacqueline Hassett were not present at the Grand Forks meeting, which ran about 30 minutes, then continued as a board retreat, led by Jamestown School Superintendent Rob Lech.

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In conducting its business, the board approved the selection of JLG Architects firm architectural and engineering services for the proposed Grand Forks career and technical education center.

Other local firms, EAPC and ICON, also submitted responses to the school district’s request for proposals and were interviewed by the district’s agency selection committee.

A committee charged with evaluating the RFP submissions was comprised of Chris Arnold, director of buildings and grounds; Eric Ripley, director of CTE and technology, both with the Grand Forks School District; Mayor Brandon Bochenski; Amber Flynn, School Board vice president; and John Oncken, owner of True North Equipment.

Arnold said the city has indicated it will pay for costs associated with architectural and engineering work.

Under the local CTE Workforce Center steering committee, five subcommittees are working on aspects of an application to the state for $10 million of the $70 million in federal funds the Legislature has set aside for startup or expansion of CTE centers.

Input from JLG, especially concerning costs, is considered crucial to the facilities subcommittee in its role of selecting the preferred location of the Grand Forks CTE center. The three ranked sites are the former Holiday Inn near the intersection of Gateway and I-29, the City Business Park, and Red River High School.

Two rounds of funding are planned, with applications due Oct. 1 or Dec. 1. Each application must include a matching commitment of cash or in-kind contributions from public and private sources.

In other action, the Grand Forks School Board approved the appointment of the following teachers, effective Monday, Aug. 23 -- all full-time employees, except where noted:

  • Jenna Curran, English (60%), Grand Forks Central High School, $25,595.
  • Tiahna Edevold, social worker, Phoenix Elementary School, $49,842.
  • Leah Gunderson, special education (50%), $21,329.
  • Kalli Hanson, reading specialist (40%), Mark Sanford Education Center, $18,014.
  • Alexander Martinson, innovations teacher, South Middle School, $44,242.
  • Kendall McCarty, special education teacher, $49,842.
  • Mercedes Renken, speech language pathologist, Winship Elementary School, $47,466.
  • Erin Skaff, special language pathologist (50%), Century Elementary.
  • Kelsey Yanish, school counselor, Twining School and Wilder Elementary School, $47,466.

The Herald's Hannah Shirley contributed to this report.

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at pknudson@gfherald.com or (701) 780-1107.
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