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‘Pro-choice, not anti-mask’: Hibbing parents, students protest new school mask mandate

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HIBBING, MN -- The Hibbing School Board recently approved an indoor masking requirement for all K-12th grade students, staff, and visitors.

The mandate went into effect Monday.

The school updated the policy based on recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health.

The school board said they are trying to preserve in-person learning after some students and staff recently tested positive for COVID-19.

Not everyone is happy with how the situation was handled.

Signs that read "pro-choice, not anti-mask" and "honk for freedom" lined the sidewalk outside Hibbing High School in Tuesday's peaceful protest.

Dozens of Hibbing parents and students have been protesting outside the high school with this message: wearing a mask should be a choice, not a mandate.

"We believe every student and every parent should have the option of wearing a mask," Tarra Hartl, a parent of kids who attend ISD 701 schools, said. "It shouldn't be a requirement. It shouldn't be a mandate. There should've been more time for us to plan and prepare."

Hartl said the school board made the announcement with little opportunity for families to weigh the options.

"It was Friday afternoon a little after 4 o'clock when we all got this news that come Monday morning at 8 o'clock, kids would need to come to school in masks, and it was mandated," she said.

Protesting parents said the school board made the decision without taking anyone else's input into consideration.

St. Louis County Public Health Division Director Amy Westbrook said there are several layers to COVID-19 mitigation and right now masking indoors is what is safest.

"I know not a lot of people probably appreciate wearing masks and other mitigation measures, but it is important so we can all have as normal of school year as possible, and it's exciting for kids to be in school, so I that the positives outweigh the negatives," Westbrook said.

For many protesters, the issue isn't just about wearing a mask.

Lori Samuelson, a parent and grandparent of kids in ISD 701, said it is about protecting freedom.

"I have vaccinated children. I have unvaccinated children. It's their choice, but to force something on people in our country against our will, that is wrong," Samuelson said.

With the decision already made, parents want to know what to expect moving forward.

"How long is this going to go on? What's the plan? What's the next step?" Hartl said. "Why weren't the parents asked? Why weren't the students asked?"

The protesters made it very clear: they are not anti-mask, they just want the freedom to choose.

"We are absolutely not anti-mask," Hartl said. "We are pro-choice. We want everybody to have the choice to wear a mask. We just don't want it to be mandated. That's all."

CBS 3 reached out to school board members for comment.

Some members did not respond, and others did not want to comment.

In a statement to CBS 3, Hibbing Schools Superintendent Rick Aldrich said the district respects parents' individual choice, and they have given an opportunity to accommodate individual needs.

Aldrich did not say what that opportunity is.

The peaceful protest is expected to continue every day during school hours for the rest of the week.

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Kendall Jarboe

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