ELY – Protective face masks will not be required of students and staff in Ely schools at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. Instead, school administrators will strongly encourage the …
ELY – Protective face masks will not be required of students and staff in Ely schools at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year. Instead, school administrators will strongly encourage the practice against the spread of the coronavirus.
With the ever-changing COVID-19 landscape and public safety protocols, administrators at ISD 696 are hoping for a more “typical” school year when Ely students return to the classroom on Tuesday, Sept. 7.
Superintendent Erik Erie told school board members last week that the district’s administration team was considering the latest public health recommendations and local coronavirus case rate information before making any announcements on mask mandates and other safe learning protocols for students as the school year begins.
Erie said he was not expecting to make any announcement on safety protocols until Monday, Aug. 23, but he was able to convene the district’s Safe Learning Plan Advisory Committee last week, and with mounting pressure expressed against implementing a campus-wide face mask mandate, students and staff will be just encouraged to wear face masks.
A letter to parents, students and staff from the ISD 696 administration team said, “Masks are recommended by MDE (Minnesota Department of Education) and MDH (Minnesota Department of Health) for all people in the school setting but are not required. This is subject to change and masks may be required in the future.”
Erie added, “We continue to ask for your patience and support as recommendations, requirements, and guidance continue to change from MDE, MDH, local health, and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) regarding the COVID-19 virus.”
Face masks are required on all school vehicles per CDC and Minnesota Public Transportation rules.
“All people riding school buses will be required to wear face coverings, including for all activities,” Erie said.
Face masks are recommended by MDE and MDH for extracurricular activities but are not required during active participation. Masks may be required in the future, Erie added. Ely Public Schools are required to report confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the Minnesota Department of Health.
Erie said the input of local health care providers, including Ely-Bloomenson Community Hospital and Essentia Health, was essential in reaching the masking recommendation.
“Dr. (Joe) Bianco, who is not a regular on our advisory council, was also involved,” Erie said. “His message was to encourage vaccinations. That was also the message from Aubrey Hoover from the St. Louis County Public Health Department.”
Children under the age of 12 are not allowed to get the COVID-19 vaccine, leaving a large part of the school population unprotected.
“As soon as that authorization comes, our local public health officials will work to have vaccination clinics available,” Erie said. He noted that having vaccination clinics in the school could again be a possibility.
St. Louis County data indicates that just 40 percent of 12- to 17-year-olds have been vaccinated with one dose.
The bi-weekly case rate for Northern St. Louis County increased from 1.24 (per 10,000 people) two weeks ago to 8.67 last week. Erie told school board members that he expected the local case to increase again this week to 12.38. As of Tuesday, the case rate stood at 13.
The Ely Public School Restart Blueprint put in place last year dictates that a case rate of at least 10 calls for a hybrid learning model for secondary students and in-person learning for elementary students. Safe Learning Plan recommendations last year called for social distancing, face masks or coverings, COVID-19 symptom screenings and other precautions.
Erie’s letter to staff and students added that in-person learning will be provided five days a week, 8:05 a.m. - 2:50 p.m. Distance learning will not be provided this year at ISD 696.
“We were forced into doing that with some of our situations last year,” Erie told school board members last week.
“We will continue to adhere to our school safeguards again this year,” Erie said. “We will keep class sizes small, be very diligent in our cleaning, and do what we can to keep employees and students safe.”
Students and staff in the Washington and Memorial buildings will also be kept separate as much as possible. “We will serve lunches in the Washington building and not have students go back and forth between the buildings,” Erie said.
Erie did not anticipate vaccination mandates for staff or students without the guidance and direction from the Department of Education.
“We of course strongly encourage everyone get vaccinated who are able to,” he said.
He did not have data on how many Ely teachers received the COVID-19 vaccination.
“We have broad statistics from St. Louis County, but we have not surveyed for that information.”
“The Ely Public Schools will continue to work with our Ely Safe Learning Advisory Council and our Safe Learning Site teams to finalize other details to reopen our schools safely including, but not limited to, the following:
• Identifying close contacts to a positive case,
• Screening for symptoms,
• Social distancing,
• Cleaning and maintaining healthy facilities including ventilation,
• Continued handwashing and respiratory etiquette,
• Collaborations with state and local health officials, and
• Monitoring COVID-19 cases in our community.”
“We will continue to actively monitor our local COVID-19 data to help us provide a safe learning environment for students, families, and staff,” he said.
Erie anticipated convening another advisory council meeting in early September.
At the ISD 696 school board study session on Monday, Aug. 23, school administrators are planning to announce a comprehensive safety plan and will address contact tracing and other protocols, Erie added.