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Anoka-Hennepin Schools to remove mask mandate, parents respond

The district's announcement comes the same week nine major hospital systems asked even vaccinated individuals to mask up in public.

ANOKA, Minn. — This week, newspapers published an ad paid for by nine major Minnesota health care providers all urging the public to take precautions against COVID. Mom-of-two Melissa Schwen saw it.

"It says wear a mask even if you're vaccinated," the Blaine resident said.

A daughter in sixth grade and a son in second, Schwen says her kids are vaccinated and don't mind wearing masks. Their district, Anoka-Hennepin Schools, currently requires masks for grades K-6.

"I was like, 'Surely our school district will now actually make everyone wear masks after seeing this,'" Schwen said. "Then we got the message saying no grades now. I was like, what? I was shocked."

Just days after hospitals made their plea, Anoka-Hennepin notified families its mandate will lift next month. Starting Jan. 18, masks will be recommended, not required, for all grades.

"It just doesn't seem right when the hospitals are crying out for help right now," Schwen said.

Fellow Anoka-Hennepin parent and Methodist Hospital registered nurse Joelle Zaviska agrees.

"We were one of the several other hospitals who just the other day put out this huge plea to everyone to please help us," Zaviska said. "We're suffering right now. We are at capacity in our hospitals. ... I'm very frustrated by that because that's the opposite of what we asked for. You know, we have new variants out that we don't totally know everything about and we need to all be very diligent in doing everything that we can."

In its letter, Anoka-Hennepin says it "remains committed to providing a safe environment at school while ensuring in-person learning can continue throughout the end of the school year."

Anoka-Hennepin declined an on-camera interview Wednesday but said the district shared the information now to give families time to get vaccinated. Schwen worries families who haven't done so yet still wont.

"We told my daughter last night ... and she started to cry," Schwen said. "She said, 'Well because I want to keep wearing the mask, because I know it's the right thing to do, I know that I'm going to get made fun of and I'm going to be one of the few kids wearing them now and I think I'm going to lose friends.'"

Anoka-Hennepin Schools says, if 5% or more of students within any given school test positive for COVID, then masks would still be required at that school.