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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

ISD 696 declares mask-to-school mandate

Last-minute policy reversal draws backlash, petition

Keith Vandervort
Posted 9/8/21

ELY –As the 2021-22 school year got underway this week, all students, staff and visitors to Ely schools were required to wear protective face masks due to public health concerns over the …

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ISD 696 declares mask-to-school mandate

Last-minute policy reversal draws backlash, petition


ELY –As the 2021-22 school year got underway this week, all students, staff and visitors to Ely schools were required to wear protective face masks due to public health concerns over the spiking coronavirus pandemic in the community.
In a letter to ISD 696 families last Friday, the school administrative team said, “In accordance with new Minnesota Department of Health Guidance, recommendations from local health care providers and the public notice from Essentia Health released (on Sept. 2) the Ely Public Schools will require face coverings in all indoor settings K-12 at this time.”
“Essentia Health came out with some messaging (Thursday night),” Superintendent Erik Erie said. “We have also been in contact with our local health community and have been strongly encouraged to change our position from recommending to requiring face masks for all.”
He said the mask mandate, which pertains to indoors only on the ISD 696 campus, takes effect immediately and will be in effect “until further notice.”
In an updated letter to families sent last Saturday, the ISD administrative team added, “We are very sorry for the last-minute change in our Ely Schools Safe Reopen Plan. We received news late Thursday evening that prompted this change. We wanted to get the message out as soon as possible.”
School officials also received correspondence from local medical professionals stating, “We are concerned that if these recommendations are not followed, our students, and the community as a whole, could suffer a severe outbreak of the highly infectious Delta variant and potentially overwhelm local medical resources at a time when the state and regional health care providers are under enormous strain.”
The ISD 696 administrative team added, “This virus is ever-changing and we are constantly monitoring and modifying our plans. We know this is an inconvenience and everyone wants life to get back to normal, especially in the school setting. We are hopeful this is a speed bump along the path toward a more normal 2021-2022 school year.
The Ely School Safe Learning Plan Advisory Council was scheduled to meet on Thursday, Sept. 9, to review the mask mandate and discuss other moves to keep students and staff safe.
“We don’t know how long the mandate will be in place,” Erie said.
The recommendation from Essentia Health said:
“We are writing to you as physician leaders of the Essentia Health Departments of Pediatrics, Department of Pediatric Hematology and Oncology, and the Hospitalists and Neonatologists of St. Mary’s Children’s Hospital to share our recommendations to prevent COVID-19 infections in the classroom this fall. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently came out with strong recommendations for both universal masking in the classroom as well as getting vaccinations for all those who are able.
“With the increased infectivity of the Delta variant and the inability to vaccinate children less than 12, we are increasingly concerned about the possibility of a massive outbreak, should universal masking not be adopted. This could quickly overwhelm our pediatric hospitals locally and may end up leading to the deaths of children in our community.”
There are valid concerns regarding the effect that masking has on student academic progress, particularly in the younger grades and in children with special needs. While these concerns are important to consider, we have data showing that virtual learning is likely a greater obstacle to academic achievement. Multiple studies estimate a several-month delay in academic progress related to virtual learning during the pandemic. A virtual environment also disproportionately impacts students with school-based therapy needs as well as those from lower socio-economic status households. For these reasons mitigation of viral transmission within the district, and thus a reduction in the probability of transition to a virtual environment is likely to optimize student achievement.”
“We recognize that this will now be the third academic year affected by COVID-19. We also recognize that learning occurs best in the classroom and would like to make this possible for all children. The pandemic has taken a massive toll on learning, mental health, and nutritional status. To prevent further losses in this regard, we urge you to adopt these recommendations and mandate masking for all students, staff, and visitors for children in K-12 schools in the hope of having in-person and safe learning environments for our children this year.”
Erie added that some other North Country school districts have issued mask mandates, including Cook County, while others, including ISD 2142 and Rock Ridge school districts, have not.
“We have worked very well in tandem with the hospital and Essentia in getting our community vaccinated and in trying to keep people healthy in both our school and the Ely community,” he said. “We rely on their expertise in this area.”
Related links
• Press release from Essentia Health that encourages universal masking in schools as the new year begins on Tuesday, Sept. 7:
• Best Practice Recommendations for COVID-19 Prevention in Schools for the 2021-22 School Year from the Minnesota Department of Health:
• American Academy of Pediatrics COVID-19 Guidance for Safe Schools:


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