The Rochester School Board has started flexing its muscles when it comes to enforcing mask usage at meetings, leaving some with questions about whether it has overstepped its authority in doing so.
During its last meeting, board chairwoman Jean Marvin read a statement, saying the school district would trespass anyone who refuses to comply with its requirement that masks be worn in school buildings. That person would not be allowed to be on school premises for a year.
“Starting tonight, if you choose not to wear an appropriate mask while you’re in this building, and when approached by an administrator you refuse to comply with their request to mask, you will be trespassed,” Marvin said.
The issue of trespassing on school grounds is talked about in Minnesota Statute 605.905. A portion of that section reads:
“It is a misdemeanor for a person to enter or be found on school property within one year after being told by the school principal or the principal's designee to leave the property and not to return, unless the principal or the principal's designee has given the person permission to return to the property.”
The statute goes on to define school property, in part, as: “any property owned, leased, or controlled by a school district.” While not used as an actual school, the Edison Administration Building is part of the school district, and that is where school board meetings are held.
The Rochester School District’s attorney, Mick Waldspurger, could not be reached for comment.
Ken Schueler is an attorney who has worked with many school districts in the state on a variety of issues, including the Pine Island School District with its mask policy. Although not speaking on behalf of any school district specifically, he supported the notion that school boards have that level of authority.
“I haven’t seen one that I thought was a viable argument,” Schueler said about the arguments against school districts requiring masks. “What people forget is that there are rights created by the Constitution, but those are not unfettered rights. You have the right to free speech. However, that doesn’t give you the right to go into a crowded theater and scream ‘fire.’”
Schueler said it’s possible for a school district to overstep its authority. But, if it has a rational basis grounded in health and safety, the organization does have the authority to enforce that legal policy. In the scenario of requiring masks during a pandemic, he said school districts are supported in their decisions by organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Mayo Clinic.
School board meetings are open meetings, meaning they have to be accessible to the public. However, Schueler said that does not stop school districts from enforcing their policies. Because of that, individuals who refuse to comply with a mask policy could still get themselves barred from meetings that are otherwise open to the public.
“The fact that a meeting is open does not entitle a person to violate the law or school policy,” Schueler wrote in an email. “If you go to an open meeting and illegally start a fire, you can be thrown out. Further, a restraining order may exclude you from any school property for up to a year. Municipal organizations have the right to protect their property and enforce their policies.”