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The district will require masking inside school buildings, recommend social distancing

With the school year set to start, the Richfield School Board renewed the school district’s face covering policy Aug. 16.

The 6-0 vote came after a lengthy presentation by Superintendent Steven Unowsky, who laid out the school’s plans for providing “safe learning plan” options and the guidelines for minimizing the spread of COVID-19, in keeping with public health recommendations.

The face covering policy is available for review on the school’s website, but the district did provide a few of the key highlights:

• Face coverings are required for all individuals over the age of 2, regardless of vaccination status, when indoors in school buildings and district offices and when riding on school transportation.

• When in school buildings or in district offices, individuals may temporarily remove their face covering in certain situations, including while eating or drinking or when playing musical instruments.

• Face coverings are not required outdoors.

In a statement issued by the district, some of the top reasons for implementing their masking guidelines included:

• The impact on staff and students when shifting to and from distance learning when positive case rates spiked.

• The impact on students when they were quarantined due to close contact with an individual who tested positive for COVID-19.

• A case rate that has been rapidly rising.

“The safety of our students and staff remains a top priority,” the school stated in its release. “In addition to the face covering policy, we will continue our expanded cleaning practices and promote hand-washing and home screening for students and staff.”

In conjunction with the mask-on policy being passed by the board, there are other mitigation measures also being recommended by administration:

• Social distancing (a recommendation, not a requirement) - 3 feet between students; 6 feet between staff and students.

The district release also described how arriving at the updated masking policy was compiled through recommendations, and statistical trends in the community and across the state.

“We know mask mandates are a divisive issue in the country right now,” the statement read. “The board heard from several concerned families and staff who were both for and against the face covering policy. In the end, the board followed the recommendations of the Minnesota Department of Education, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and The American Academy of Pediatrics.”

Learning models

The school board also heard from Unowsky about the three learning options that will be made available for families in the district.

They include in-person, a blended option, and a fully online option. The in-person model includes the traditional school program and will be offered at all schools. The blended option provides a mix of some in-person and some online learning programs.

The full online option will allow students to work with other institutions that provide a full online option. The Richfield district is currently negotiating with these other institutions to provide students wishing to learn online with a full educational experience – an option the Richfield district doesn’t offer at this time.

Referral and enrollment in the full online program will be facilitated by school counselors and administrators.

Vaccination rates in Richfield

With the delta variant accounting for the majority of cases of COVID-19 now being spread, Unowsky stressed that the variant spreads more than twice as easily, has a higher viral load, and can contribute to breakthrough cases.

Unowsky also presented updated vaccination rates among different groups in Richfield.

• Ages 12-plus = 81%

• Ages 12-15 = 67%

• Ages 16-17 59%

Vaccination rates by race

• White - 74%

• Hispanic - 71%

• Black - 47%

Unowsky stressed that these numbers might be skewed a bit because many don’t indicate their age or race.

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