Edina School Board to continue mask mandate discussion at Dec. 13 meeting


Ellanor Splinter

The Edina School Board discussed virus mitigation strategies, such as HEPA filters in classrooms

Isadora Li, managing editor

The Edina School Board special work session on Nov. 16 spanned a variety of topics, but the conversation that took center stage was Superintendent Stacie Stanley’s periodic report of COVID-19 transmission and mitigation strategies. The school board hasn’t made any concrete decisions, as various factors are being weighed before moving forward.

The district’s Return to School plan currently utilizes a tiered mitigation approach, which focuses on layers: physical distancing, use of HEPA Filters in the classroom and cafeterias, quality hygiene protocols, daily cleaning of high touch surfaces, visitor safety protocol, quarantine protocol, universal masking, offering vaccination clinics, and having a COVID-19 coordinator at each site.

The recent district vaccination clinics from Nov. 9 and Nov. 11 have proved successful in getting more students in the 5-11 age group vaccinated, as well as increasing overall vaccine numbers among middle and high schoolers. Vaccination clinics have been offered at sites such as Valley View Middle School and Concord Elementary; some clinics targeted students in need of special accommodations by offering drive-up clinics. As a result of these efforts, the district has administered over 1,450 doses thus far and plans to offer additional clinics on Nov. 30 and Dec. 2. 

Mary Heiman, Health Services Coordinator, emphasized the importance of mitigation strategies currently in place at district sites. Proper usage of the HEPA filters and vaccination rates have been key in keeping district infections low. 

Board members took varying stances on a rollback of COVID-19 mitigation strategies and the idea of a mask-optional policy. Board Chair Erica Allenburg, who recently won reelection, mentioned prioritizing students’ needs while being proactive about containing COVID. 

Board member Owen Michaelson, whose term ends on Dec. 31, proposed a two-pronged approach. He suggested combining a transition to a mask-optional policy by Jan. 4, 2022, with identifying specific metrics that would elaborate on benchmarks needed to scale back mitigation efforts. He subsequently mentioned monitoring ICU capacity and local transmission as indicators to introduce a mask-optional policy along with the loosening of quarantine requirements. 

Part of the Edina Public Schools decision to adhere to the mask mandate is out of caution for the 5-11 year old age group within the district, who were ineligible to receive any COVID vaccine until recently. The rates of fully vaccinated students within this age group will be key in forming the next steps, and this information will be made available in December after the vaccination clinics are set to administer the second round of doses. 

With Minnesota infection rates among the highest in the country, the Dec. 13 school board meeting will be a pivotal moment in deciding the future of the mask mandate policy, as well as other COVID-related policies.