ST PAUL, Minn. — On the eve of fall semester, amid a surge of delta variant cases across the state, Saint Paul Public Schools (SPPS) will require masks in all of their district facilities after the school board voted unanimously to approve the measure Tuesday evening.
Board members listened to a round robin of public feedback both for and against a resolution introduced by SPPS Superintendent Joe Gothard that would require masks for everyone older than 2 inside school buildings.
"We want to open our doors. We want to physically open our doors, and keep them open," Gothard said in an interview after the vote. "It comes down to some personal choices, and the ability to maintain an environment that doesn't have the kind of spread that we've seen around the country."
Parents packed the school board meeting on Tuesday ahead of the vote, with 10 parents speaking in favor of the mask mandate and four speaking against it.
"It is, I think, the least that we can do," parent Nate Barber said. "Mask up and protect our community. It's a minor inconvenience."
Other parents, like Michael Gay - whose child is a senior in high school this year - said it should be left to parents to decide.
"I'm not against masks, necessarily. I'm against the Saint Paul Public Schools mandating our kids wear masks," Gay said. "If I want my child to wear a mask, I can make them wear a mask."
Prior to approving the mask mandate, the board also voted to expand an online school option for K-12 this year. The online school is distinct from previous notions of distance learning; rather, it will be an entirely different system within SPPS.
One board member also brought up the idea of requiring vaccinations for staff, to be discussed at future meetings.
The decision to mandate masks in St. Paul comes on the heels of a similar vote cast by Minnesota's largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin, which recommended that students and staff wear masks, without going so far as to mandate the measure. Neighboring Minneapolis Public Schools, however, will require everyone to be masked within school buildings, regardless of vaccination status.
SPPS said on their website that in planning to require masks, they're following current recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health and the CDC. MDH notes that while fewer children are getting seriously ill with COVID, they can still spread the virus to others. Since children under 12 are not able to get a COVID vaccine, there is an increased risk of transmitting cases of COVID within classrooms.
MDH recommends that everyone over the age of 12 get a COVID vaccine. In addition to vaccination locations provided by the state and health care providers, three SPPS schools are hosting vaccination clinics. These locations are open to students and their families, as well as anyone in the community still in need of a vaccine. Find more information about these clinics here.