Education Minnesota said last week it supports a safe and equitable return to in-person learning for the 2021-22 school year, which can best be accomplished by following the guidance of state and federal health officials for restricting the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 in schools.
“Educators believe safe, equitable in-person instruction should be available to every Minnesota student this fall,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “Right now, the best way we can see to the achieve that goal, while keeping our schools and communities safe, is to consistently and rigorously follow the guidance from state health officials and the CDC.”
The CDC reversed course and advocated restoring universal mask-wearing by students, teachers and staff in schools last week.
The presidents of the two big teachers unions, Becky Pringle of the three-million-member National Education Association and Randi Weingarten of the
1.6-million-member American Federation of Teachers, endorsed the new mask mandate. Weingarten added one warning, though: Vaccination can’t be coerced.
Specht acknowledged that many students and educators, especially those who have already been vaccinated, will be disappointed by the Minnesota Department of Health’s recommendations. However, Specht noted that the department, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Academy of Pediatrics are unanimous in recommending that educators, staff and students wear masks at school, unless a medical or developmental condition prohibits their use.
“The delta variant has put our schools in a difficult spot,” Specht said. “We must be honest about the situation and recognize the science is clear. The best way to keep our schools safe and open this year is to follow the strategies recommended by state and federal health officials, including masking, vaccinations, appropriate ventilation, social distancing and handwashing.”
Although state and federal public health experts can make recommendations, the ultimate authority about what policies will be adopted in Minnesota school districts resides with locally-elected school boards.
“We encourage school board members to consider their responsibility to the health and safety of their students, their educators and their communities,” Specht said. “That not only includes adopting policies to slow the spread of the virus, but districts may also need to find new ways to encourage students, educators and staff to stay home if they are showing signs of infectious illness. This is not the year to work, or study, while sick. For one example, every hourly educator needs paid sick leave this fall.”