With just under a month to go before classes resume Sept. 7, Westonka Schools announced it will not require face masks to be worn inside school buildings, and it will not require proof of vaccination from either students or staff.

The announcement, made Aug. 3 and posted to the district website, references current guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education.

“All students, staff and visitors are recommended—but not required—to wear face coverings/masks while indoors at school, regardless of vaccination status,” reads the announcement.

The district is still requiring that face masks be worn while on the school bus. That requirement aligns with current order by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that face coverings be worn on any form of public transportation, regardless of vaccination status.

The district is not requiring proof of vaccination from either its staff or its students, but it is recommending that all those eligible to get a vaccine get one. The Food and Drug Administration has given emergency use authorization of the Pfizer vaccine for children as young as 12. The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines have only been given authorized use for those 18 and older.

Westonka will still be offering online courses to high school students via a third party this fall but that it will not be offering an online learning option for students in grades K-7. Minnesota public school districts are not required this year to provide a distance-only learning option to families as had been the case last year.

In its decision to forgo the distance option at the primary and middle school level, the district cited a lack of interest in distance learning among families with students in grades K-7, as measured during a survey this spring.

That survey, given to families who had opted for distance only education at any point during the 2020-2021 school year returned 418 responses. The majority of respondents, 352 people or 84.2 percent, had said they favored fully in-person learning for their child this fall. Just 26 respondents, or 6.2 percent, indicated they would opt for distance learning again if it were offered while 17 respondents, or 4 percent, were undecided at that time.

“Throughout this pandemic, we have created safe and healthy learning environments by following MDE and MDH requirements. This direction has served us well,” Westonka superintendent Kevin Borg wrote in the announcement. “We know that it is critically important to have kids in school, and our efforts will center on ensuring this can happen.”

State and federal direction will continue to inform school officials in the coming weeks and months, and policies could still change, the district said. Any changes will be updated on the district’s website at http://www.westonka.k12.mn.us/covid19.

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