Board Chair Lee Adams for the Board of Supervisors made a comment via Zoom in lieu of the Health Department, stating the County had “no roll in the daily operations of public schools”, to which the audience applauded.
Public comment was held for items not on the posted agenda. Candy Corcoran said a lot of people from the community had asked President Mike Moore to resign and wanted a formal answer. Moore stated it was improper communication. The board passed a motion to have a Zoom meeting in October and one in November and stated as the board president, he couldn’t do that on his own. The board voted 5-0 to have a Zoom meeting, and he had no control over changing that meeting. Moore said there was a premise out there that he lied, adding he made a mistake and believed the Health Department advised them on a Zoom meeting because of the pandemic rising so much. He stated he hadn’t made a decision on whether he would resign but decided not to run again, adding he has been serving this school district for close to 50 years. From the audience, Kelly Champion told Moore he represented Loyalton and felt he was not backing the people he was representing. Moore replied Board members represent Sierra County.
Discussion followed regarding vaccine and mask mandates. Board member Nicole Stannard told the audience this was a discussion and wanted to hear from the public. The board decided not to have either of the topics as action items until the next board meeting on December 13th. She stated they wanted to have an educated decision before voting. Comments were opened and many took the microphone during the 2-½ hour meeting. Mask comments talked about the amount of strep kids are getting. One parent stated her child already had strep three times this year and asked how many in the audience have had kids with strep. Many raised their hands. Board member and Nurse Practitioner for EPHC Christina Potter was asked about strep cases. She said in 2019 during a three-month period she saw six strep cases. In 2020 during the same time frame she treated 100 cases and stated there were probably more this year, adding the numbers don’t lie. It was stated over and over how very difficult it is to talk, teach or do anything wearing masks and many felt it was detrimental to children’s learning. Many students spoke out against wearing masks and had been protesting that week at Loyalton High School. Parents had been called, students were sent home, and Superintendent James Berardi spoke to a group of them impressed with fighting for their rights. Berardi was happy to report they found out the day before that athletes could play basketball without wearing masks.
7th grader Bennett Stahl spoke and stated he had been kicked out of math four times because he won’t wear a mask. He asked the Board to come to the school and wear a mask seven hours, five days a week, and run a mile in the gym. Annie Siqueido reported from Zoom the favorite part of her 5 -year-old’s day was recess and lunch because they get to take off their masks.
One parent stated masks teach kids to live in fear and felt the board was living in fear of being sued, adding not a single lawsuit against COVID has won. She understood liability insurance and stated they still have monkey bars and many schools don’t based on liability. It was asked if parents sign a release of liability. Berardi said they couldn’t write away liability. He told the audience if they wanted to do something as a community to get together and write letters or call their legislators as those are the people they want to stop.
Many speakers wanted the Board to recommend masks but not enforce it, stating other schools were doing it and it was working.
Jane Roberti asked the consequences to the District if the mask mandate goes away. Berardi stated legally it’s not law and the Board could enforce it the way they want, but can’t opt out of it. He said there was no language on what would happen if they say no masks, adding it could be loss of money or ramifications but didn’t know.
Champion handed out resolutions from other school boards. She stated these school boards were working in unison with their parents, adding they needed their school board to do the same.
Many also spoke out against the vaccine mandate and asked what the District was doing to research this mandate. One parent mentioned data on long-term effects of this vaccine on children is non-existent and questioned how this was even a discussion.
Samantha Ingle felt they needed to be proactive so parents can make an informed decision and stated it
adds additional stress when it’s handled in the 11th hour. She asked if the District was accepting exemptions for religious, medical and personal beliefs. Berardi explained because it’s an executive order from the Governor there would be exemptions. He talked to Senator Dahle who is also against it and he stated coming in January they expect something to happen legislatively. Berardi said you don’t need exemptions right now because there is no vaccine mandate now and thought there would be a big push back. He stated if it goes forward they will have exemptions available to the public.
Stannard stated she struggled with wearing a mask and stated some counties were asking what benchmarks needed to end the mask mandate and she concurred. She felt in moving forward the board needed to send surveys and piece what parents and constituents want to fight these mandates that are not constitutional. She will be investigating to see if they can have another special meeting to vote on these items before the 13th. Stannard said they’d also been getting letters from those who are on the other side of the fence and have staff members who have “flat out said if they do not enforce the mask mandates they will leave their job.”
Potter stated as a parent, board member and medical professional COVID is real but didn’t support the mandates. She wants her kids to have a choice not because someone told them to do it.
Moore stated they have a collective bargaining agreement with the teachers association that states they will follow the State and Health Department and will take the most restrictive ruling. He added that he wasn’t saying they couldn’t change it, but they would have to work with the teacher’s association to get rid of this agreement.
Moore said his personal opinion didn’t matter. It was what he has to do as a board member that mattered. Initially he was in favor of keeping the masks and now he was leaning in the other direction.
Board member Patti Hall thanked everyone for coming and appreciated everyone who spoke. She hated wearing masks as much as they did but had all these other pieces and wanted to “cross the t’s and dot the i’s” and make sure they know what they are voting on. Hall felt the vaccine mandate would go to the Supreme Court and thought they’d be in for a long fight.
Loyalton Elementary Principal Andrea Ceresola told the Board the longer it took to make a decision the longer they had to deal with issues, adding they are the kicking post and makes their job harder and puts them in difficult positions.
Loyalton High School Principal Megan Meschery reported the kids protesting had been respectful and have amazing students here, but masks are “super hard.” She said they are suffering the masks and been experiencing chaos. Meschery needed the Board to make a decision as fast as “humanly possible,” adding they are on the front lines.