Rochester Public Schools Superintendent advises school board to require masks

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(ABC 6 News) – The first day of school in Rochester is Monday, August 30. Many people are wondering if students will be going back to class with a mask mandate. Rochester Public Schools Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel is proposing one and asking the school board to approve it. The board has to vote on these recommendations next Tuesday. Superintendent Pekel is recommending they enforce a mask requirement for all students and staff – no matter their age or vaccination status.

That’s one part of a longer list of recommendations to the board.

"It’s no one thing. It’s the combination of strategies: of social distancing, of sanitation, of ventilation," Pekel said.

One strategy: requesting that staff voluntarily report vaccination status. Pekel says that gathering this information could mean that schools with lower vaccine rates have tighter restrictions while schools with higher vaccine rates loosen up.

"We would be able to have a more differentiated strategy over the school year, rather than a one size fits all strategy," he said.

His list of proposed strategies also includes setting up a vaccination clinic on campus and social distancing. Pekel worked with local health officials to develop these ideas.

"With the alpha variant and now much more so with the delta variant we see that it can pass through children and are seeing outbreaks where children can give it to their parents," Pekel said.

Pekel’s recommendation comes after Rochester residents against wearing masks filled the most recent school board meeting.

"I understand those peoples’ perspective…"

Their frustration around masks.

"And I wanna get rid of them as soon as we can," Pekel said.

ABC 6 News heard from parents against a mask mandate. They say it should be up to them – whether or not their kids wear masks. Many believe the delta variant does not pose a threat to children. Kesha Barry is a mom with two kids in Rochester schools. Both of them were under twelve. They can’t yet get a COVID vaccine, so she sees a need for masks.

"We have a younger daughter in the house whose only two. I am immune-compromised and my mother who lives with us is immune-compromised," Barry said.

If the school board votes to not require masks, Barry will have to switch her kids to online school. Many school districts in our area are taking different approaches to masking in the fall. Albert Lea Area Schools says masks are strongly recommended to unvaccinated students and staff, but they aren’t required.