Gov. Tim Walz may have put an end to the statewide mask mandate beginning today, Friday, May 14, but his ruling will not apply to schools per Heather Mueller, Minnesota commissioner of education.
In a statement released to school leaders Thursday, May 13, Mueller stated: “Through the end of the 2020-21 school year (last teacher contact day), masks must continue to be worn by everyone inside school buildings or on a school bus.”
All three superintendents in the Douglas County area – Rick Sansted, Alexandria School District; Don Peschel, Brandon-Evansville School District; and Randy Bergquist, Osakis School District – are abiding by Mueller’s request and will be requiring masks to be worn in their schools and on buses.
However, not all are happy about it.
Bergquist said the whole year has been stressful for everyone and Walz’s lifting of the mask mandate couldn’t come at a worse time. It is two weeks before graduation and prom is this weekend for the Osakis High School, he said.
He is all in favor of lifting the mask mandate and feels it is overdue, but the mask mandate wasn’t lifted for schools.
“Students, staff, families and community members are expected to continue wearing masks when in school, but people are ‘masked out’ in many aspects of their life and this includes school,” Bergquist said. “People hear Gov. Walz’s lifting of the mask mandate and automatically assume this pertains to schools. Unfortunately, it doesn’t.”
Bergquist said that students, parents and community members think that the school is making the requirement for masks, when it is not. It is the Minnesota Department of Education, but people are upset at the school, he said.
He also said he was hoping the governor would let each school district make its own decision, but that that has not happened this year, so why should he have expected anything different.
“I am so confused, frustrated and spent,” Berguist said. “It is becoming more evident that COVID-19 has become more political. I don’t completely understand the rationale behind this decision, especially since Minnesota has the fourth highest rates across the country. I know the CDC makes decisions, but this past year, Minnesota has decided to not always ‘buy in’ right away and often waits before following the CDC guidelines.”
Continue to be diligent
In her statement to school leaders the commissioner of education said the CDC had not yet provided clear guidance for school settings, but has stated that they expect to update guidance for children in school and summer camps soon. But until then, Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan would remain in effect, therefore masks would still be mandated in schools and on buses.
“We are making great progress in our fight against COVID-19, but our school-age children have been significantly impacted by the virus in recent months, so we must continue to be diligent with health and safety practices through the remainder of the 2020-21 school year,” said Mueller.
Sansted said that as guidance continues to be updated for graduation and other end-of-the-year celebrations, the high school will communicate directly with parents and students with any changes.
“Thank you for your continued support, partnership and teamwork as we work toward a strong finish to the school year,” said Sansted.
Peschel said that the Brandon-Evansville School District will abide with the mask mandate outlined by Mueller and that he doesn’t see anything changing for the rest of the school year.
“I was surprised by the timing of the announcement from the CDC and Governor Walz,” he said. “But we will continue to follow the Safe Schools Plan.”
Vaccines proven effective
In a news release from Walz’s office, Minnesotans who are not fully vaccinated are strongly encouraged to wear face coverings indoors. And private businesses and local municipalities may still put in place face covering requirements.
“This great day is possible because vaccines have proven to be effective,” said Walz. “Once you are fully vaccinated you are protected. You can confidently return to the people you love and things that you miss – all without a mask. The message is clear – get vaccinated and let’s put the pandemic behind us once and for all.”
The CDC announced on Thursday, May 13, that masks are no longer required for fully vaccinated individuals either indoors or outdoors. Minnesotans should follow CDC guidance and wear masks in medical settings and on public transportation, regardless if they are fully vaccinated or not.
People are fully vaccinated two weeks after their final dose of vaccine, either the second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
“This is an important day for Minnesota and the country,” said Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. “With millions of doses administered, we are seeing that vaccines work and are effective. But you need to roll up your sleeves and get the shots to get the protection. Minnesotans who aren’t protected should continue to wear a mask and stay safe.”