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Board members apologize following chaotic meeting in Wrenshall

Sixteen students left the district in the hours following a meeting where community members were belittled after asking the district to require masks inside the building.

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More than 50 people crowded into the Wrenshall School commons area for the school board's committee of the whole meeting Wednesday, Sept. 8. Jamey Malcomb / Cloquet Pine Journal
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Three Wrenshall School Board members apologized Wednesday, Sept. 8, for the behavior of the board during a contentious meeting Aug. 31 regarding masks in the school building.

Board members Jack Eudy, Misty Bergman and Nicole Krisak apologized for the board’s conduct during the meeting.

In the immediate aftermath of the meeting, 16 students withdrew from the district. The school board heldan emergency meeting Sept. 1 and approved an investigation by John Edison, the district’s legal counsel, into allegations of misconduct against a board member made by community members, according to Superintendent Kim Belcastro.

RELATED: Carlton County schools take different approaches to masking Several school boards met Monday and Tuesday, with some schools like Carlton requiring masks in all district buildings to start school and others like Esko only recommending their use inside.

RELATED: Wrenshall School Board orders investigation after contentious meeting Sixteen students withdrew from the district in the hours after board member Misty Bergman took a combative stance with parents and teachers who asked the board to require masks for students.

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“We lost 16 students last week due to the turmoil that we’re dealing with,” Belcastro said. “It’s pretty simple math when you run a school district — that’s $160,000.”

More than 50 people gathered in the Wrenshall School commons area as board chair Jack Eudy took responsibility for the conduct of the meeting, but reiterated his commitment to the school and community.

“Our last board meeting was not the way I really wanted it to go and that’s on me and I want to apologize,” Eudy said. “I promise you, it will never happen again as long as I’m sitting here. I just want you to know that I take this job very seriously. I’m here to serve the community, the students and the teachers.”

The Aug. 31 meeting centered around the issue of requiring masks for students and staff in buildings.

Bergman, the board vice chair, began the meeting questioning the science behind masks and said children are unaffected by COVID-19. She also said requiring masks for students is “child abuse.”

During the open forum portion of the meeting, Bergman interrupted, talked over and questioned those who spoke in favor of requiring masks. She was particularly harsh with Patrick Riley, a parent of a Wrenshall student.

During the Sept. 8 meeting, Bergman said she is new to the community and had hoped to start a parent-teacher organization at Wrenshall. The pandemic prevented that, but Bergman said the morning of Aug. 31, she was at the school providing breakfast for the staff using her own money.

She also said she is passionate about the topic of masks, but she really wants to support the teachers and students at Wrenshall.

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“That’s why I’m here. I want to do good things for this community. I want to do good things for the children,” Bergman said. “I want us all to work together and be together. I apologize that I was a little unruly, maybe, and argumentative in stating my opinion — maybe more than I should have ... I did apologize to Patrick right after (the meeting) and he did accept my apology.”

Krisak said following the mask meeting last week, she was inundated with phone calls, emails and texts from people upset about the board’s conduct during and after the meeting.

“The trust and respect of the staff and community is gone,” Krisak said. “We cannot continue to point fingers until we come to grips with the damage we have done. It is not OK to belittle a community member because we have different points of opinion. It is not OK to give the middle finger to someone because we have different opinions ... Let’s try and gain the trust and respect back and focus on what really matters — this school, this community, the kids. We have some many wonderful things going on right now.”

COVID policy change discussed

Later in the meeting, Belcastro asked the board to amend the COVID-19 policy approved at the Aug. 31 meeting.

The policy required masks in the school if 5% of the total students and staff at Wrenshall — about 20 people — test positive for COVID-19 in a two-week period. However, it did not require siblings of students who test positive to quarantine.

Belcastro said a fifth grade student tested positive this week for COVID-19. The student has a sibling in sixth grade and while the sibling has not been to school since the positive test, there is no requirement for them to quarantine in the Wrenshall policy.

The board all nodded their approval to the change and Belcastro said they will formally vote on the amendment to the policy at the board’s regular meeting Monday, Sept. 13.

Jamey Malcomb has a been high school sports reporter for the Duluth News Tribune since October 2021. He spent the previous six years covering news and sports for the Lake County News-Chronicle in Two Harbors and the Cloquet Pine Journal. He graduated from the George Washington University in 1999 with a bachelor's degree in history and literature and also holds a master's degree in secondary English education from George Mason University.
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As reported by Carlton County District Court.