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Minnesota schools await further guidance on fall classes and masking

Districts must now consider new universal masking recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics, among other factors.

MINNEAPOLIS — School districts across Minnesota are still deciding how to handle the upcoming fall semester, with Monday bringing another wrinkle as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended universal masking for all kids older than two.

Due to the uncertainty of variants and vaccine accessibility for some age groups, the AAP says students should wear masks in school buildings even if they're fully vaccinated. According to state data, only 34% of kids 12 through 15 have completed their vaccine series; for kids under 12, the FDA has indicated vaccines might not be available until winter.

These guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics conflict somewhat with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which has said only unvaccinated students need to wear masks in school.

On Monday, Dr. Anthony Fauci called the AAP a "thoughtful group," and sought to clarify some of the confusion between the AAP and CDC recommendations.

"The CDC recommendations may be at variance with that, but in every respect, the CDC always leaves open the flexibility at the part of local agencies, local enterprises, local cities and states, to make a judgement call based on the situation on the ground," Fauci said. 

So far, in Minnesota, both Minneapolis Public Schools and Saint Paul Public Schools told KARE 11 they haven't made a decision yet about fall safety protocols and masking. A spokesperson for Minneapolis said "that will be coming out in the next couple weeks," while a spokesperson for St. Paul said the AAP recommendations are just an additional factor for the district to consider. 

In Anoka-Hennepin, the district sent a letter to parents last week about the plans for fall, saying "face coverings/masks are not required for either students or staff but are recommended for those not vaccinated. This guidance applies both inside buildings or in outdoor settings." 

RELATED: All students should wear masks in school this fall, top pediatrics group says

At the same time, districts are waiting on final guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health. A spokesperson for that agency told KARE 11:

"Prioritizing in-person learning while protecting the health and safety of students, staff and families remains our top priority. We are working with MDE to review the CDC guidance and update the Minnesota school guidance for the 2021-22 school year. We will share more information on the final guidance soon. We continue to urge all eligible Minnesotans to get vaccinated now so they are ready for the school year and we can help limit spread of COVID-19 in schools and our communities."

Parents are eagerly awaiting more guidance. Sarah Almen, who has two young kids, said she plans to keep her Hopkins first-grader in distance learning to start the year until he can get vaccinated.

She supports universal masking.

"I struggle," Almen said, "because I don't understand why we can't do what would keep everyone safe the longest."

Brianna Paige, who has two kids at Minnesota Excellence in Learning Academy in Maple Grove, said she understands masks can be difficult for kids but that she'll support whatever choice her school makes.

"I feel as though, if it's going to protect everyone, then it's necessary," she said. "It's going to be a tough job. But, if they can get some great guidelines, then it will work for me." 

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