In a letter to parents this week, Duluth public schools Superintendent John Magas laid out a plan many may have thought wasn’t possible, one that ensures in-person school five days a week — despite the ongoing pandemic.

It’s what most students and their families wanted. More than two-thirds of students last year indicated to the district they were uncomfortable with distance learning. So there won’t be any this year, at least not to start off the fall semester.

For it to continue, and for this to work, those same students and their families need to make responsible choices and follow the district’s plan, even if there are aspects of it they don’t like. By compromising and working together, we all can help ensure that our public schools stay open this year, that our children and teachers and staff members stay safe and healthy, and that the bit of normalcy represented by “regular school” isn’t canceled.

The first choice Duluth district students and families — and everyone else, whether connected to our schools or not — can make is to get fully vaccinated against COVID-19, which has killed more than 630,000 Americans in just a year and a half and nearly 4.5 million people worldwide. Vaccinations won’t be required by the Duluth school district, yet, but they are “strongly recommended and encouraged,” as Magas and the district indicated.

“Getting vaccinated is one of the best things we can do to reduce the impact of COVID on our schools and community,” Magas said in a statement, also this week.

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In contrast to the far too many irresponsible comments posted on Facebook and elsewhere, COVID-19 vaccinations are safe, they work, and they are recommended by doctors, infectious disease experts, health care professionals worldwide and others who we should be relying on for our well-being, who we’ve been trusting for generations to care for us.

Vaccinated or not (and here’s hoping most already are or soon will be before entering schools filled with children), everyone in the Duluth public schools who are 2 years old or older will be required to wear face masks to start out this school year. Doing so is a small concession to help ensure the health and safety of the wearer and everyone with whom they come into contact.

Like vaccinations, face masks work. We know that now. There may have been debate and incomplete science at the outset of the pandemic, but any uncertainty has been replaced by overwhelming evidence that face masks block airborne particles and reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Dozens of peer-reviewed scientific studies support this now. Researchers, scientists, medical professionals and others overwhelmingly and almost universally now agree, including those from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, the National Academy of Sciences, the New England Journal of Medicine, and other reputable institutions.

So, kids, wear your masks and wear them properly, over your nose and not just around your chin. Parents and guardians, please insist on this. It’s a minor inconvenience and sacrifice we all can be willing to make. The upside is huge, and this needn’t become a flashpoint of heated contention.

Anyone unable to tolerate masks, of course, shouldn’t be made to wear them — and won’t be made to in the Duluth public schools this year, in accordance with its “Safe Learning Plan.” It isn’t too much to require, though, verification to document a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that precludes masking.

Magas and the district leaned on some pretty reliable and unquestionably trustworthy sources when preparing their back-to-school guidance. That included the CDC, the American Association of Pediatricians, the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Medical Association, the Minnesota Academy of Family Physicians, the Minnesota Chapter of the Association of Pediatricians, and the St. Louis County Health Department.

“We want to do all that we can to provide safe, effective in-person learning as a district and community this school year,” Magas said in his letter to families. “These COVID protocols, including mask wearing and encouraging vaccinations for those 12 years and older, are tools that can help keep local COVID rates down and ensure in-person learning this school year.”

It’s precisely what parents and students said they wanted. Now it’s on them to ensure it works, that in-person learning can continue uninterrupted throughout the year, and that students and teachers and others in our schools are safe and healthy.



FOR MORE DETAILS

The Duluth school district’s newly updated “Safe Learning Plan” is online at isd709.org/safe-learning-plan.

It includes recommendations for vaccinations; masking-requirement details; and guidance for the public use of district buildings, athletics and activities, cleaning procedures, and day-to-day operations.

“These safety protocols are subject to change as conditions and guidance changes,” the district said in announcing its plan this week.

District officials are working closely with the St. Louis County Health Department, the Minnesota Department of Health, and the Minnesota Department of Education to monitor and adjust to the public health crisis.