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North Branch Schools

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September 22, 2021

8/27/2021 11:52:00 AM
New member nominated to CL board as they grapple with COVID-related decisions
Sarah Aadland, of Almelund, is the new school board member. Aadland is married and has a fourth, eighth and 11th grader in the district. She grew up in a small town in South Dakota and moved to the Twin Cities area for graduate school. She’s lived in the area for eight years now. Here’s an introduction to the community:

What made you decide to apply for the open position on the school board?
Honestly, my parents instilled the value of public service when I was young, and that ethic has really stuck. Whether it's a volunteer effort or stepping up to sit on the school board, my parents gave their time and talents to the community whenever it was needed. This past year-plus has been intense for everyone, but especially for families, our children, and our teachers. When the position opened up, it felt like stepping in to offer a fresh perspective and pragmatic problem-solving skills was the right thing to do.

All three of my kids have thrived in the Chisago Lakes District. We moved here eight years ago in part because the area schools stood out as exceptional compared to the other semi-rural areas we were researching at the time.

I'm excited by the chance to play a role in guarding that standard of excellence and guiding our district through the current budgetary challenges and general community tension. I will draw on my creative problem-solving skills, community-building mindset, and commitment to our children’s future.

Also, since my family moved here eight years ago, I have looked actively for ways to support our local schools. I've volunteered in the classroom. I've served as the Outreach Coordinator for the parent group at Taylors Falls Elementary (TFE). I've initiated a Kindness Club at TFE, bringing the tools I create for Doing Good Together (a national nonprofit dedicated to raising kids who care and contribute) into the hands of students interested in making a difference. This open board position feels like the right next step in applying my skills to help our schools thrive for the betterment of all members of this community.

What applicable professional skills do you think you have to be able to add to the school board?
For nearly 15 years, I’ve worked to empower kids, strengthen families, and connect communities around the country. I'm honored to bring this peace-building perspective to the school board. As a program director, I've had to step in, do my research, and creatively solve whatever roadblocks are in front of me. I plan to bring the same approach to the board. Also, I believe my experience at the Humphrey Institute of Public Policy trained me well in active problem solving, best practices research, and the ability to make pragmatic, future-minded decisions. I look forward to applying my skills to the challenges and opportunities facing the board during my term.


Over two meetings last week, the Chisago Lakes School Board nominated a new member to take the spot created by Melissa Donovan’s resignation.

The board unanimously chose Sarah Aadland out of a pool of three candidates who completed every step of the application process. The other applicants were Mike Hilber and Joan Tabak.

Superintendent Dean Jennisssen had said that 22 people had started the application process, 13 had finished the application, but only three of those had completed all the requirements, including letter of interest, resumes and references.

Vice chair Lori Berg was the one who nominated Aadland, and no other nominations were heard. “I want to thank the three people who came forward for their willingness to step forward for our school district,” Berg said. “The quality of these people and their backgrounds is just a credit to our community. I want to thank Sarah, Mike and Joan at a time where it’s a little difficult to be on the school board. I think they were all three impressive.”

Aadland was at the meeting and said that she was excited to be a part of making the district as strong as she can moving forward. (See sidebar for background on Aadland.)
Aadland has to serve a 30-day waiting period before she can sit on the board officially, which does come before the regular meeting scheduled on Thursday, September 23. As long as there are no public objections before then, that will be Aadland’s first official meeting.

After the appointment, much of the meetings focused on the debate around masking in the school district. A few months ago, the board voted that there would be no district-imposed mask mandate within the schools, but since then, COVID numbers locally and nationally have been on an upward trend.

This prompted the district to reach out to all kindergarten through sixth grade families to guage their interest in a fully masked class. The district was looking for 22 students in any given section to be in favor of a masked class to be able to establish a separate section. What they found in the survey results was less than that.

Eight kindergarten students, 15 first graders, 18 second graders, 15 third graders, nine fourth graders, 16 fifth graders and nine sixth graders were in favor of a masked classroom. That’s 90 total students out of 1,748 in the K-6 levels at the district.

“As we look at those results as administrators, our recommendation was to continue our plans and not run a masked classroom at any grade level. Class sizes would end up being impacted negatively,” Jennissen said.

Despite no formal vote being taken, Berg and board member Dani Strenke disagreed strongly with that the recommendation.

“I’m disappointed this takes options off the table and I’d have to say that it’s a part of a broader discussion about masking and guidelines,” Berg said. “For me, I just need to state that if we have no option for families that would like us to follow guidelines, I could never support not mandating masking for everyone if that’s my only other option. We have to have an option for families that want safety guidelines followed, including myself. I can’t see us taking this option off the board and not giving any other option.”
Strenke added, “I totally agree with Lori. Our stated goal number one is to increase personal safety and that includes every student, every staff member, the unvaccinated and the vaccinated. Children don’t have a choice to go to school right now with a vaccine. We owe it to them to provide for their safety at a minimum to have a mask requirement. Goal number two is that every student has an advocate. These are real students with real health concerns. We didn’t get numbers from Taylors Falls parents because they aren’t going to uproot their kids to the other side of the district for a masked classroom. The CDC and Minnesota Department of Health says students, staff and visitors should be masked. We should be promoting vaccinations. It’s a health and economic concern. I think it’s careless and reckless to not have a mask requirement simply because some people think it’s uncomfortable to wear a piece of cloth on their face. I’m not going to support anything less than that.”

Board members Brenda Carlson and Jeff Lindeman felt differently. Carlson said that she’s not comfortable taking the masking choice out of families hands. “I don’t support mandating something not everyone is supporting,” she said. “I think it’s up to the families.”

Strenke countered, saying “Your personal choice to not wear a mask affects my health.”

Lindeman said that although he had so hoped they would get enough numbers for masked classrooms, he was elected to represent the survey. “ I always have felt as a parent and a teacher that parents’ wishes trump over mine. We found out that under 100 families chose to sign up for a masked classroom. I just feel I don’t want to be a parent to 1,700 children whose parents chose not to have masks,” he explained. “I feel it’s a parental decision. We need to have everything in place that we can that’s not restrictive, but I think we have to dance with the virus here.”

Leigh was a bit more non-committal to masking or non-masking. “I’m waiting to see how this plays out knowing we have a little time before school starts. It was easy when we were mandated to do it. There’s so many things that have been said about masks and their effectiveness. You can hear anything and try to sort through what works best and what you believe is best for you and your family. I don’t know what to say. I really don’t. I’ve been trying to wait to see how things are playing out in our area and our state. I’m willing to listen and try to learn. I know there’s a lot of people that don’t want us to mask.”

Lindeman said he was open to hiring extra teachers with COVID relief money just for the students who wanted to have a masked class, but not only is that a budgetary concern, it’s a space concern. There aren’t enough physical classrooms to just add extra sections.

Jennissen did note that with just over 400 kids in summer school and 172 children in Kids Club this summer, there were zero positive cases.

In the second meeting, the board was set to vote on granting Jennissen the ability to make a decision on if or when the district needed to revise mask policy, but each board member had an issue with it, not necessarily in granting Jennissen those powers, but in how the resolution was written.

Carlson felt the resolution needed to include other facets of emergency decision making in regards to COVID, very similar to the agreement the board signed off on with Jennissen last year. Berg agreed with Carlson, but also wanted to clarify that the language in the resolution didn’t mean they were voting for no masks to start, as she doesn’t agree with that.

Lindeman said he was fine with Jennissen being able to make those decisions and then coming to the board after, but he would like a better communication protocol to the board when those decisions were made. “I had times last year when a parent would reach out about a change that happened, and I had no idea what they were talking about,” he said.

With requiring the district’s legal counsel to re-write the resolution, the board agreed they needed to schedule a short meeting for the week before school to make sure this is in place before the first day.

They put together a special meeting for Wednesday, September 1 at 8 a.m.

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