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Wendy Leibel Resigns from Pine City School Board

The house was packed Monday night as community members turned out for a tense Pine City School Board meeting.

The big discussion item of the evening was the school district's decision to require masks for elementary students and staff for the next four weeks. The announcement was made last week following a reported rise in cases within the elementary school, which is causing the building to be short-staffed.

Throughout the meeting, parents questioned the efficacy of masks, with some stating they plan on sending their kids to school without one.

The board itself was split in its response to those gathered. Both Dan Peterson and Tim Geisler stated they have a disdain for masks and choose not to wear them because they are yet to be convinced that masks are 100% effective.

Peterson believes the district needs to focus on how to function with COVID-19 being part of life from now on.

"I think we have to make our decisions based on that it's not going away," Pederson said. "The difference is now, from a year ago, we have all kinds of treatments that mitigate the severity of it, and I think that's what the rest of our lives will have to be settling on."

Despite the skepticism, Geisler did agree with board member Becci Palmblade saying they need to do something to keep students in school.

"Nobody wants to wear a mask," Palmblade told the audience. "I'm a nurse. I don't want to wear a mask all day, but also I want my kids in school because the last year and a half has been a complete backward spiral for a lot of our kids in the community."

Palmblade went on to say that she doesn't want students to wear facemasks for a long period of time, but they need to do something because the unchecked spread is affecting staffing rates and their ability to effectively run the district.

Close to the end of the meeting, Superintendent Paula Foley spoke to the effects of having multiple staff members out for weeks at a time.

"Our elementary school principals are getting nailed right now," Foley said. "They work every night. They are at home right working on who's going to cover what. Our staff has stepped up and given up their prep and has come into help, but we need some kind of relief. They can't keep going at this rate and do a good job teaching and stay healthy themselves."

A big surprise of the evening was that School Board Chair Wendy Leibel announced that she would be resigning from the board effective November 9. Leibel did not go into the specific reasons that led to her resignation but said the past 18 months have been difficult.

"I just can say that this past year has been hard and that sometimes you have to take care of yourself. You have to put yourself first," Leibel told the board.

Leibel's term was sent to expire in 2025. To fill the position for the short term, the board will be taking applications for an interim school board member. Those applications will be made available on Wednesday and can be found on the school district website.

Superintendent Paula Foley said the school board would appoint the interim member during a December board meeting. The interim board member would then serve from January of 2022 until the election is held in November 2023.

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