Berthoud Weekly Surveyor | Covering all the angles in the Garden Spot

Mask mandate once again dominates TSD Board meeting

By: Dan Karpiel | The Surveyor | September 02, 2021 | Education

The subject of the mask mandate and other COVID-19-related issues once again dominated the discussion Wednesday night at the regular meeting of the Thompson School District (TSD) Board of Education.

During public comment, a total of 31 individuals addressed the board; 20 in-person and another 11 via a recorded message. As was the case at the previous meeting on Aug. 18, those opposed to the TSD’s mask mandate outnumbered those in favor, though both sides of the issue were represented with passionate and well-articulated positions. In total, 17 of the 20 in-person speakers were opposed to the mandate while 10 of the 11 who participated via recorded telephone message were supportive of the board’s mandate.

Many of those who addressed the board stated their opposition to the universal mask mandate is not an opposition to masks, but rather a support of student/parent/household choice. Christian Jorgensen, a TSD parent who was not able to attend Wednesday’s meeting but told the Surveyor earlier in the week, “Medical decisions regarding kids have always and should always be that of the parents. Parents who want their child masked at school can still do so or chose online.  Parents who do not want their kids masked at all, to this day still don’t have a choice. Medical decisions are not to be made by Board Members, that is solely the parents’ decision to make.”

Parents, the majority of whom were from Berthoud and have children in the TSD’s Berthoud schools, who addressed the board in opposition to the mandate shared stories of how their children have experienced discomfort and, for some, more serious maladies including nosebleeds, coughs, sore throats, ear pain and nausea from being required to wear masks while in school.

Berthoud town trustee May Soricelli, who has three children in Berthoud schools, made an impassioned speech that began with, “The fact that I am here means you have failed the families of Berthoud and Loveland, the fact that they are coming to me, a trustee of Berthoud, is evidence that you are not doing your job which is to listen and act on their behalf.”

Trustee Soricelli, in quoting the Declaration of Independence, stated emphatically her position that health decisions, such as wearing a mask, are not the role of elected officials or bureaucrats but belong solely to the individual and their family.

Soricelli concluded by stating, “I find this board in violation of the Constitution of the United States of America and because you no longer represent the vast majority of the parents in your district, I am calling for your immediate resignation,” to which Soricelli received thunderous and sustained applause from the near-capacity crowd. Prior to the meeting, Soricelli told the Surveyor her youngest daughter, a first-grader, has been suffering panic attacks from wearing the mask and has dreaded going to school, after loving it the first week, since the mask mandate was enacted.

A Berthoud parent shared a deeply disturbing account of the situation at Turner Middle School (TMS). The gentleman stated that his daughter elected to not wear a mask and was segregated from her classes, on consecutive days, and sent to the TMS library. According to the testimony, the student told TMS faculty they were violating her Constitutional rights and quoted the 14th Amendment, which she had researched on her own.

The parent stated that while his daughter was reading her statement, “a teacher snatched that piece of paper out of her hand and told her she was a nasty little child, that she was going to kill all of her classmates and all of the teachers in this room and that she was a terrible, terrible person.” The parent concluded his comments by telling the board, “The things that were said and done to them in that library does not follow your mission statement.” The student has since withdrawn from the TSD, the parent confirmed.

Another parent who has a child in a Berthoud school told of how their child received an anonymous note, presumably from another student, that read, “I hope you and your anti-mask mom die from COVID.”

While the majority of the speakers were polite, there were some in attendance that heckled the board members, predominantly because they would remove their masks when speaking, and, after the initial six public comments, Board President Lori Hvizda Ward called a recess. Upon returning, Hvizda Ward heard further jeers while explaining that board members and district staff have been instructed to remove their masks while speaking as the meeting is live-streamed on the TSD’s YouTube channel and comments may not be audible on the stream with a mask covering the speaker’s face.

One public commenter who was in support of the mask mandate, appealed to all in attendance to be respectful and courteous during public comment, remarking that jeering and booing set a bad example for children.

A Berthoud resident who participated via recorded message in support of the mask mandate stated, “There is just no reason we wouldn’t have a mask mandate for our kids, the ICU beds are filling up, our young children are dying from COVID and it’s so preventable, we can all just mandate that everyone wears masks and we can cut the risk factor for these kids.” As of Thursday morning, the Larimer County Department of Health and Environment (LCDHE) reports that no county resident under the age of 25 has died from COVID.

Two individuals who participated via recorded message were from outside the district, one from Fort Collins with children in the Poudre School District and another from Massachusetts. The caller from Massachusetts, who attended the TSD in her youth, stated her name as Dr. Emma Howard Young, a pediatrician who has seen children admitted to the hospital with COVID infections, “some have been critically ill,” she said, and further outlined that wearing masks provide a strong measure of protection against the virus. Upon research using social media, the Surveyor discovered Dr. Howard Young to be the daughter of Pam Howard, TSD Board of Education Vice President.

One caller who was in opposition to the universal mandate suggested the board adopt a position similar to the one currently employed in Windsor where masks are not required until a school population exceeds a 3% positivity rate, at which point masks are required for two weeks or until the rate drops below the 3% threshold. The caller listed the current rates for all TSD Pre-K through eighth-grade schools and not one exceeded 3% and several had not reported a single case.

Prior to the meeting, the Surveyor reached out to Hvizda Ward with five questions regarding the board’s decision to institute a mask mandate, the subsequent backlash and emails obtained between Hvizda Ward and the Larimer County Commissioners and Gov. Jared Polis where Hvizda Ward asked the recipients to enact county-wide and state-wide mask mandates for K-12 schools. Hvizda Ward’s reply to the Surveyor read, in total, “I appreciate the questions. The letters speak for themselves. My goal, and presumably most everyone’s in our communities, is to keep as many children in school in person as much as possible. I strongly encourage everyone who is eligible and able to get vaccinated.”

At the Aug. 18 meeting, the board asked to receive regular updates regarding COVID-19 conditions across the district. Last night, TSD Chief Operations Officer Todd Piccone told the board that, as of Sept. 1, there have been a total of 148 positive cases among students and staff, nine of which came the week of Aug. 17 to 22, when no mask mandate was in place, and 139 came following the mandate which began on Aug. 23. Piccone stated the TSD has in place a “robust rapid testing system in partnership with the (LCDHE).”

Tom Gonzales, LCDHE Director, was largely complimentary of the board’s actions and stated the ultimate goal must be to keep students in in-person learning, given the difficulties remote learning presented. This position has been at the forefront of the board’s argument for the mask mandate.

“Transmission can go from our kids to our adults … primarily what we’re seeing in the ICU are those who are unvaccinated, we don’t want masks, I don’t want masks either, they’re temporary, vaccines are really our only tool out of this pandemic,” Gonzales said. “We’re in a battle with the virus and when we fight amongst each other the virus wins … let’s stick together, we may disagree but we’re trying everything we can to keep our kids in school, we cannot go back and go virtual again, that was too damaging on our youth.”

While initially setting a vaccination goal of 65% for the age 16-plus population of Larimer County, the LCDHE raised the target percentage to 70% this summer to, according to comments made to the Surveyor by Gonzales, align with CDC guidance. Currently, with data as of Aug. 31, 72.6% of the Larimer population over the age of 16 has received at least one dose and 68.2% are fully vaccinated.

The TSD announced on Thursday morning that the board will hold a special meeting on Friday, Sept. 3 at 8 a.m. to discuss “COVID safety mitigation and masking requirements.” The Surveyor will update this story following the meeting.







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