Education Minnesota warns latest COVID-19 move could threaten the safe reopening of school buildings

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ST. PAUL, Minnesota. Jan. 7, 2020 – Loosening restrictions on activities associated with community spread of COVID-19, as the governor did Wednesday, could jeopardize the planned reopening of elementary school buildings starting Jan. 18, warned Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota.   

“Educators want to be back in their buildings with their students when conditions are safe and sustainable,” Specht said. “But right now, we’re growing concerned that a post-holiday spike of infections fueled by the new COVID-19 variant and transmission in bars, restaurants and gyms will come together with delays in testing and vaccinations to make reopening school buildings impossible in many communities.”  

Specht encouraged Gov. Tim Walz to closely monitor infection data and be prepared to take steps to protect students and school staff if COVID-19 rates increase. If necessary, she said the union would support increased relief payments to small businesses affected by extended restrictions. Specht echoed the governor’s statements on Wednesday that every Minnesotan can make choices that will affect what happens next for the state’s students.  

“Educators and nearly everyone else in Minnesota want our state’s children back in the classroom with their friends, but only when it’s safe,” Specht said. “One of the hard lessons we’ve all learned from this pandemic is that you can’t operate schools when the virus is spreading too fast through the community because too many educators get sick or go into quarantine. Wearing masks, washing hands, keeping your distance — these are the choices that will decide when our school buildings reopen and stay open.”  

Specht said the union would encourage the governor to extend certain COVID-19 leave policies for educators that expired at the end of 2020. She will also ask the governor to prioritize educators who have in-person contact with students in the second round of vaccinations, which will start after health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities receive their doses. Specht emphasized the need for all educators to be tested for COVID-19 before they interact with students in person to protect students and staff from unknowingly spreading the virus. 

About Education Minnesota
Education Minnesota is the voice for professional educators and students. Education Minnesota’s members include teachers and education support professionals in Minnesota’s public school districts, faculty members at Minnesota’s community and technical colleges and University of Minnesota campuses in Duluth and Crookston, retired educators and student teachers. Education Minnesota is affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers, National Education Association and AFL-CIO.

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