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How Walz's mask mandate could apply to in-person education

There is still no date for a resumption of in-person learning, but Governor Walz's mask mandate outlines rules and exceptions for K-12 students, staff and teachers.

GOLDEN VALLEY, Minnesota — When school resumes in person, which remains unclear, Governor Tim Walz’s mask mandate says every kindergarten through 12th grade student, staff and teacher must wear a mask or face shield while indoors or in school transportation.

There are exceptions and nuances to when the masks could be taken off.

Minnesota Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller says teachers and staff with medical conditions and students with developmental, behavioral or medical conditions can be exempt from the mask mandate.

According to the mandate, every non-exempt employee and student can take the masks off during eating or drinking, recess or physical education, musical performances, practices, swimming or showering, and other scenarios.

“The majority of teachers are saying that's not enough,” said Greta Callahan, president of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers, Teacher Chapter.

Callahan says most teachers in Minneapolis would not be able to return to class in person under current conditions due to the risks to themselves or family.

“Nobody went into teaching to do it over zoom. We all want to be with our students. That's how we want to teach and that's how they need to learn. We know that's what's best. We also don't want to die, and we don't want our students to die or their families,” said Callahan.

The Minneapolis union is joined by St. Paul and Anoka-Hennepin teachers’ unions in a petition, aimed at the governor, demanding a list of safety and public health items before resuming school.    

The list includes hiring more essential staff, a decline in new COVID-19 cases for 14 consecutive days, sanitary supplies and personal protective equipment, investment in various capital projects, and ending “high stakes” standardized testing.  

As far as public funding for PPE and supplies, Mueller said, “[The governor and lieutenant governor] are definitely looking at all the possible sources or funding streams to be able to figure out how they would support our students and staff.”

A decision by the governor on when schools will start and in what form is expected next week.

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