FARGO — The Fargo School Board wrestled with the issue of masks again during a work session on Tuesday, Sept. 21, as the current requirement of wearing masks in schools is set to be challenged at the next board meeting.
A motion is slated to be raised at the Tuesday, Sept. 28, meeting to end the district's mask mandate and leave the decision of masking students during the COVID-19 pandemic up to parents. Board members pointed to differing data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, World Health Organization and other health groups.
Much of the debate centered around the differences between West Fargo and Fargo public schools. West Fargo recommends masks, but does not have a requirement like Fargo. Fargo Public Schools instituted a mask mandate shortly before the 2021-2022 school year began.
Tracie Newman, a pediatrician and board member, encouraged other board members to listen to expert advice and not to follow in West Fargo's footsteps. She said area hospitals are at capacity, and to change the mask mandate now, shortly before the vaccine could be offered to younger children, could be dangerous.
“I’m doing my best here in these meetings to wear my school board hat,” Newman said. “We’re on dangerous ground when we’re randomly stating these facts and making comparisons."
The motion to be considered next week was delayed from the Sept. 14 board meeting. To prepare for making a decision, many board members requested better data comparing West Fargo schools to Grand Forks and Fargo public schools, which are requiring masks to be worn.
Toward the end of Tuesday's discussion, board member Jennifer Benson challenged Newman on the origins of COVID-19 data and current hospitalization rates, saying that she’s a mouthpiece for “mainstream messaging” and “propaganda.”
“You’re not doing your own research, you’re just repeating the propaganda,” Benson told Newman.
“I work in the hospital. Propaganda?” Newman said.
“The truth doesn’t mind being questioned, Tracie,” Benson said.
Board members also wanted to know more about how contact tracing is being done, saying that other school districts are sometimes more than a week behind notifying parents that their children came into contact with someone positive with COVID-19.
“I don’t want to compare to West Fargo, but we are being compared,” said board member Robin Nelson.
“Are we declining? Are we increasing? What is happening in our corner of the country? I understand from experts that we are moving into tougher territory, that our numbers are not going down,” said board member Nikkie Gullickson.
Board member Jim Johnson challenged board members to seek unity, and to stop derision between them. “Stop making assumptions about what somebody on the board is or isn’t doing. Please,” Johnson said.
Next week’s board meeting will occur shortly after the school district releases the results of its review of petition signatures later this week for an effort to recall board members Seth Holden, Newman, Gullickson and Johnson. If the signatures are validated, a special election will occur most likely in January 2022.