A group of 15-20 community members and parents in the Alexandria School District sent speakers to Monday’s Alexandria School Board meeting to voice their displeasure with the district’s COVID-19 policies, specifically the topic of masking, vaccines and in-person learning.

Laura Knudsen, the first parent to take the opportunity to speak during the “Delegations” portion of the meeting, brought a list of claims about the negative impacts of masking for children.

“We elect school board members who, in turn, hire administration,” Knudsen said to the board. “You have a responsibility to the community that delegated you to this position to look out for the well-being of the children we entrusted to you. We need you to push back on requirements like masking that disrupt education. I would love for all of you to vote tonight to end masking in our schools.”

Knudsen later pointed out that she didn’t expect the board to decide on masking on the spot as it is policy to discuss the information presented at a meeting before coming to a decision. But she wanted a statement from the board.

“Minimally, our community deserves you to go on record with your opinion,” Knudsen said. “Tell us where you are at with masking our children now and for the coming school year. Will mandatory mask mandates turn into COVID vaccine mandates this fall? In your opinion, as elected officials, what do you think we can do to end masking of our children?... We need to know if we have to move our children out of this school district.”

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Superintendent Rick Sansted addressed the situation.

“It has been a challenging position for everybody this year,” Sansted said. “We value public engagement, so it’s good to see so much engagement tonight. We continue to navigate with our COVID response team. I would argue the state waited too long to come up with a plan last year. I would advocate for some push on that front. I don’t speak for the board, but I would like more clarity for parents moving forward. That’s something we’ll have a chance to do here over the next couple of weeks.”

Rick Sansted
Rick Sansted

Another parent spoke on behalf of students struggling with hybrid and distance learning. She echoed the group’s sentiment that students should be back in school full time without requirements for masking and shouldn’t be pressured to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

“As far as the vaccine goes next year, I’ve heard rumors that vaccinated children won’t have to wear masks while non-vaccinated children will,” the parent said. “That’s major discrimination. Talk about making kids feel unwanted just because they want to be healthy. They want to make sure they’re not putting experimental things into their bodies that we don’t know what will happen to them… You shouldn’t punish people that aren’t OK with being a lab rat.”

The board hasn’t come to a decision on policies for next year regarding vaccinations, masking or other COVID-19 precautions.

A parent who recently moved to the district talked about her decision to homeschool her student in light of the COVID-19 uncertainty.

“I wanted to give a perspective of a mother coming into the district for the first time last year,” the parent said. “I took it into my hands and rearranged my work schedule so I could homeschool my daughter. I sat back and watched other parents be wish-washed back-and-forth throughout the year. It’s time to seek out the parents and hear them. As far as the statistics that are out there, this isn’t new. We know what the statistics are, and we know kids cannot be in masks that long. I feel like we need to see the repercussions of what happens when things aren’t being taken care of, and there is no word of what’s coming from the board or the district.”

“Parents have had to take these decisions into their own hands,” she said. “I don’t think every parent can stay home and make it work like I did. As we see across the country, that’s what a lot of parents have had to do, and it’s time to do better than that.”

Sansted appreciated the civil discourse as he said that it “is essential to democracy.”

A Garfield parent also spoke about her frustrations with distance learning.

“I know the teachers and the administration are working hard under the circumstances,” she said. “It’s been tough on everyone. I also heard last week that even during the spike last fall, the community college stayed open for anybody that wanted to be in-person. So did the private schools as well. I realize our hands are tied by the government, but I’d like to see us stand up and do something different.”