Letter to the Editor
To the Editor:
Last Wednesday, schools were given new guidance which Governor Walz said was designed to make it easier for schools to reopen. People need to know the impact to our school his new mandates are having on our schools which have already been open.
He is once again basing his entire approach on a "Cities" viewpoint. If you watched his announcement, it was like he was assuming all schools in the state have been in a distance learning model for the entire year. Of course, we in the "Land of Rocks and Cows" have been working so hard to actually be teaching our students in-person as much as possible. In the 30 pages of mandates, it states: "Starting on Jan. 18, 2021, every early learning program and elementary school across the state may choose to operate an in-person or hybrid learning model as long as they are able to implement the additional mitigation strategies listed below (emphasis mine)."
From 164 miles away, the governor cannot see that we have implemented strategies to social distance, rearranged our entire building for the safety of all, rented additional space, etc. At some point, he needs to take his boot off the neck of our schools and allow districts to make decisions based upon their individual circumstances.
So, here are some of our new mandates and how they impact us.
While we wanted the option to bring our grades 7-12 students back every day after the Christmas break, our hands have been tied and we will not be able to do this. The earliest we can bring everyone back is Jan. 18 and that is if we can work through the complex process the Minnesota Department of Education has set up. This results in more in-person time lost for our students.
Here is another mandate: "Face masks and face shields must be worn together by school staff at all times". There are many situations this does not make sense. Schools should provide the shields, but their use should be up to the individual teachers/staff. I can’t imagine how exhausted our teachers are going to be from speaking loud enough to be heard through a mask and a face shield all day. I also wonder how teachers who have already had COVID-19 and recovered will feel about this new mandate.
Next, our schools must put in place procedures and training to be test sites to provide "On-site Saliva Testing for All Minnesota School Staff". There are pages of requirements to go with this that we will have to navigate to implement this. It is just one more thing on a staff which is stretched very thin.
Now, "Face coverings must be worn when engaging in indoor physical activity (e.g., during indoor recess, indoor physical education class, or when exercising in a gym)".
"If six feet cannot be maintained at all times in the lunchroom, all student meal times and specialist lessons must be held in the classroom or outside (weather permitting)." So even though we have reworked our lunch process and times to allow students to use our cafeteria, now we may not be allowed to let our elementary kids leave their classrooms to eat. We are also trying to figure out if we will be able to have music anymore.
Our goal all along in Minneota has been to have our kids in the building while maintaining every safety precaution recommended. But what happens when the precautions mandated get out of control or are made based on metro schools with no input from small schools? We cannot all be treated as if we are the same.
This is not the first time Walz has blind-sided schools. All along, we have jumped through the hoops required to be open and each time, once we have a plan in place, Walz has thrown new mandates at us. Before this latest surprise, he mandated that we insert an extra 30 minutes a day of prep time for all teachers. This was done with no notice, as if a school can wave a magic wand and change their entire schedule. He would not allow us to administer the ACT test which forced our students to seek testing sites in South Dakota even though we could surely space out 30 kids across a gym.
Please know we are doing all this because of headlines like this: "Mental Health Issues at Crisis Level for Children during COVID Pandemic, Expert Warns". Our kids need to be in school – even Dr. Fauci is saying we need to open our schools. We are trying, but frankly, it feels like Gov. Walz is using his prolonged emergency powers to make it very difficult.
While our governor is busy naming what is "essential" and what is not, I can think of nothing more essential to our society than educating our students. The next time you talk to your child’s teacher, please thank them for the Herculean efforts they are putting out and for all they are enduring for the sake of our students.
Note: I wrote this on behalf of myself due to my frustrations in dealing with the never-ending mandates. I do not speak for others on the school board or employed by the school.
Dawn Van Keulen