LETTER:…what happened that was so drastic it had to be changed so quickly?

Dear Ely Public School Superintendent, Administration and Board members:
I am writing to express my thoughts and concerns regarding your recent decision to mandate masks in our schools. I’ve also attached a letter from the Ely Community Voice, requesting that our petition be placed on the September 13, 2021 school board meeting agenda. (See below)
My husband and I have a son who is currently in 7th grade at the Ely public schools. I have subbed in the schools for 6 years (5 of them consecutively) and have spent many lovely hours volunteering to do fun art projects with my son’s classes. Over the years, I have enjoyed getting to know all students from preschoolers to graduating seniors. And I’ve been honored to work alongside your dedicated and talented staff. I’ve learned so much more about being a teacher just by observation. We love our schools and staff!! We’re thankful for all you do! But something about all that has just transpired had made us very sad and scared. We’re confused…& with each passing day, with each disregarded email (of my friends), we are starting to lose heart.
I’d like to share a little more background on why I’m writing today. In 2020, the district mask policy was one of the main reasons we decided to homeschool for the 2020-21 school year. The mask mandate and the possible disruptions and uncertainty of how the school year would go were the deciding factors. Homeschooling was great in many ways, and we are glad we chose to do it!
Coming into this year, one of the top deciding factors of whether or not to send our son back to public school was the the mask policy. When the district made the decision to allow parents the choice in masking, we decided to re-enroll our son. (The Echo reported this on 8/14/21.)
Your sudden announcement of the mask mandate on September 2, 2021 at 1:34pm near the end of office hours on a holiday weekend, leaving parents barely an opportunity to ask questions or understand the decision-making process was disappointing to say the least. It was confusing, stressful and frustrating, to be honest. The manner in which this decision was made was not in line with an educational institution that seeks to maintain trust and good relations with the community it serves. Personally, it left my husband and me with a lot of questions & a feeling of betrayal, as if we’d just been taken by the old “bait and switch”. Our son’s expectations were so high to go back to school and be with his friends. How could we tear that away from him at the last minute?? But we ourselves felt torn. Our beliefs and principles have been challenged by this. And we are still left wondering what “quick decision” might be made next.
This has caused us to go to God in prayer, looking to Him to help us navigate the best way forward with the circumstances we’ve been given. For that, we are thankful. Aside from disappointing our son, it would be very easy to pull him out of public and continue to home school him. And we may yet decide to do that. But in a gesture of good faith, and at his request, we are keeping him in public school with the hope that we can resolve this together. We love the teachers and all the kids! We don’t desire to punish our son because of someone else’s ill-timed actions. However we have health and well-being concerns about the use of masks. Masking at this point (with what I believe are 8 or so active cases in Ely) should be a parent’s choice. Not a mandate.
We appeal to you to stop and consider how this has affected not only our family, but so many others. We don’t understand your reasons for suddenly mandating masks when our community case numbers are so low. Where are your data, numbers, thresholds and science to back (& maintain) this decision? And what protocols will be used to determine future decisions that will affect the education of our children. You have given us no real answers. That is very wrong and very frustrating!
We understand you’ve gotten a recommendation from Essentia Health (which is still just a recommendation.) And finally, you have shown us the local Dr letter, which should’ve rightly been disclosed right away. But, may I ask, where is the official letterhead & actual signatures for this letter? If this is a “prescription” that will affect the whole student body, we need something a little more official. All that said, we do not believe the best medical and health decisions are a “one size fits all” deal. You were right to allow this to be a parent’s choice, prior to September 2, with your last minute email announcement. But what happened that was so drastic it had to be changed so quickly? Please explain.
In conclusion, we are asking you to demonstrate your good character as a public education institution made up of caring and professional people. Please consider the following requests.
BE TRANSPARENT in every aspect of how this decision was made to EVERYONE. Not just in a conversation here & there, and in personal emails. Make it public for all students, families and community members.
PUT IN WRITING what the standards are for each protocol and level of restriction (masking, quarantine length, testing, etc) so we can KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. Ely Public Schools is a learning institution…you understand this. Please model the behavior and expectations that you teach so well to our children.
LISTEN to the families and community members whose trust and respect are so fragile right now because of your actions.
ALLOW the petition to be added to the September 13, 2021 school board agenda as an act of good faith. Not next month. Your delay would be hard pressed not to be seen as total disregard for the concerns of your families and your students.
And finally, RECONSIDER the mask mandate decision. Just like in school, we all get second chances. Please, let’s “try again”!
Ann and Matt Brenny
Ely, MN