KASSON — The Kasson-Mantorville school board heard from advocates on both sides of the mask debate during its meeting Monday.

The school district, about 12 miles west of Rochester, doesn't require masks. According to Superintendent Mark Matuska, there have been 28 cases of COVID-19 so far this year in the district, which has about 2,200 students.

"Our mitigation strategies are working," Matuska said. "Overall, I think we've done a really excellent job with our protocols to make sure that the cases are staying low in the district and the transmission rates from students to students is minimal, if any."

During public comments, a couple of people thanked the district for making mask usage optional rather than essential. One of them was Dylan Soberg, the father of two children in the school district. He spoke about the minimal risk COVID-19 poses to young people and spoke of the negative impact masks can have.

"My wife and I had to contend with near daily emotional breakdowns as our children missed seeing the smiles of their friends and their teachers," he said, referring to the previous school year. "However, the thing they disliked most about wearing a mask was that it made breathing more difficult."

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Several others spoke about the risks associated with not requiring masks in schools. Michelle Waletzko spoke about how her son has a heart condition and how she fears he could be negatively impacted by COVID-19 in the school environment.

Lindsay Stromback also spoke in favor of requiring masks be worn by students and staff. She said she was speaking "on behalf of the 60-plus KM families who are either afraid or uncomfortable" to do so themselves. She said she has unenrolled her fifth-grade twins from Kasson-Mantorville and into a district "that cares about their students' health and safety."

"Right now, the board seems to practice an 'out of sight, out of mind' approach," Stromback said. "Our schools are now an embarrassment."