ROCHESTER, Minn. (FOX 47) -- On Tuesday, The Rochester Public Schools Board approved mask guidelines for the upcoming 2021-2022 school year. The board approved the Interim Superintendent, Dr. Kent Pekel's recommendation for school masking.
- Students 12 and older will be encouraged but not required to wear face masks inside Rochester Public Schools (RPS) facilities or on the grounds of those buildings.
- Students ages 2 to 12 will be required to wear face masks inside RPS buildings. These students will not be required to wear masks when outside of school facilities but on the grounds of those buildings.
- Students between ages 0 and 2 will not be required to wear face masks.
- Staff and other adults on school grounds will not be required to wear masks but encouraged to do so regardless of vaccine status.
"When we can't provide those younger learners with a vaccine and the protection the vaccine affords, it seems to be prudent to take this extra step," Pekel said.
The recommendation passed unanimously.
Some parents and community members were in disagreement about having children masked in schools.
"I am asking you to please let us make our own choices for our kids. And not mandate masking. It should be optional. We have rights. God given rights that should be upheld. Masks should not be mandated. Thank you. Please consider our pleas," said one parent during public comments.
"If the teachers are vaccinated and the younger children, I think it's a crime that we make our children wear masks. And I'm not for that at all," said Jan Thornson, a community member.
Another community leader and RPS parent believes masks in schools is the right step towards a healthier learning environment.
"Taking measures to keep others safe should never be equated in my view as tyranny. And then we confuse tyranny with precautions for others' health and we've lost our moral compass," said Rev. Luke Stevens-Royer.
A handful of students also attended the meeting while wearing masks to show their support on that decision for school life.
"I was appreciative of the facts brought to the table and I agree that wearing masks is going to be happening with that. And I think people that I know are going to be okay with that. It's definitely not ideal, like they mentioned. Nobody wants to continue wearing masks. But the reality is that we have to and that we have to protect other people, " said Yasmin Ali, Mayo High School senior.
"I definitely agree with their decision. I think it's the upmost responsibility for them to keep our students safe. Especially our young students and they need that direction. The teachers need that direction and they need the safety for their students and for themselves as well," said Yezi Gugsa, a recent Mayo High School graduate.
Longfellow Elementary school begins its school year on Thursday. Pekel said that was one reason why he wanted the board to make the mask decision on Tuesday's meeting, along with considering the CDC's updated mask in school guidelines.
Pekel said the RPS mask guidelines could change in the future.