After reviewing the current COVID-19 data from winter break at its Jan. 6 meeting, the Minnetonka School Board voted to table the discussion regarding the current mask policy.
At its December meeting, the board decided it would review the current policy given the increase in vaccination rates across the district. The district was considering a shift to making masks being optional for those in the middle schools as they currently are at the high school.
At the start of the 2021-22 school year, the school board determined that all students and staff in grades K-8 and visitors in the elementary and middle school buildings would be required to wear face coverings inside the buildings. Masks are strongly recommended for high school students and staff, but not mandatory.
Annie Lumbar Bendson, the district’s health services director, provided the following data regarding vaccinations across the district since all students have been eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccines in mid-November.
The middle school rates are: 59% fully vaccinated at Minnetonka Middle School East and 55% at Minnetonka Middle School West. She noted that these numbers are lower than last reported due to the eligibility of all students.
“Where we have seen a significant jump is at the elementary level, which is exactly as we expected as they expanded that COVID vaccine to kids 5 and older,” she said, noting the previous data showed 4.3% of elementary students.
That number has since risen to 12.1% of students who have one dose of a two-dose series and 55% who are fully vaccinated.
Due to changes in the state vaccination registry, “there has been some difficulty of accessing accurate immunization information for the high school,” Lumbar Bendson said.
However, the numbers she reported Dec. 2 showed 75.8% of high school students are fully vaccinated.
When it comes to data surrounding COVID cases in the district, as of Jan. 5 showed there were 316 active COVID cases among the district’s 10,889 students, compared to 108 reported Dec. 8.
There were 221 students in quarantine per Minnesota Department of Health guidelines, compared to 250 as last reported. A shortened quarantine period from the standard 10 days can be obtained with a molecular/PCR test completed after a full five days of quarantine.
Among the 1,865 staff, 57 tested positive for COVID compared to 11 on Dec. 8, and 31 were in quarantine, compared to eight as last reported.
“A handful would have been COVID-positive students that were in school, but the majority of these cases were students that tested positive over winter break,” Lumbar Bendson said. “So that is obviously a significant jump in numbers since our last dashboard.”
With the announcement of an e-learning day at the high school for the following day, Jan. 7, Superintendent Dennis Peterson explained it was due to a shortage of staffing for various reasons, and an estimated 45% of staff absences were COVID-related. He also noted that Fridays typically have more absences.
“If you look at COVID alone, there are not a lot of people out with COVID. But when you add it to the other people out for other reasons or illnesses or whatever ... it makes it problematic,” Peterson said.“The other part that people kind of lost track of, we were headed into a teacher shortage anyway, and particularly reserve teachers.”
While the district has a number of reserve teachers, “they’re also working for other districts at the same time,” Peterson said, noting those on reserve also have the option to decline work on any given day.
Peterson also noted that since the state is no longer in a declared emergency, school districts have to provide an in-school option for students, even if it’s through e-learning.
“We’re going to keep developing some strategies to keep as many kids in school as possible,” Peterson said.
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