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Group expected at Anoka-Hennepin school meeting to oppose student masking, COVID testing

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board meets Monday evening.

A group of Minnesotans who oppose the use of face masks in schools and COVID testing of unvaccinated students are planning to attend Monday evening's Anoka-Hennepin Schools Board meeting.

Anoka-Hennepin Schools is Minnesota's largest school district and the most notable one in the Twin Cities to have not yet made a decision on whether it will require students wear masks when school starts in September.

When the board meets Monday evening, it's likely that also in attendance will be a significant number of residents who oppose any kind of anti-COVID measures, even as the delta variant continues to spread throughout Minnesota, and other school districts – including most in the Twin Cities metro – setting plans to require face masks indoors.

Posts on the AH District 11 "Let Them Be" Facebook page suggest a number of members will attend Monday evening's meeting, and have for weeks been contacting school and district leaders to register their opposition to potential COVID measures.

The group is described on Facebook as being "for AH District 11 families that are passionate about in person school and activities remaining active."

Based on a number of recent posts, that translates to opposing face mask mandates and in-school COVID testing, even though state and federal health officials recommend that students wear face masks – regardless of vaccination status – as one of the measures to help prevent the spread of the much more contagious delta variant.

The Minnesota Department of Health announced last week that it would be making no-fee COVID testing available to all schools in the state "to help keep kids in classrooms," with schools having a choice of nasal swab, saliva and rapid antigen testing. MDH says it would also help set up temporary testing locations in response to local outbreaks.

In one post on the "Let Them Be" page, a group member says that a "mask requirement/mandates have become the least of our concerns," with another parent sharing a response from a local elementary school in which it said that the COVID testing of unvaccinated students and staff is being considered at the district level.

"Even kids that don’t qualify for 'experimentation' [the vaccine] would have to be tested," the post author says. "I encourage all of you to email the crap out of the school board ... Fill their boxes with your opinions!! Show up to that board meeting on Monday!"

The group's efforts to lobby Anoka-Hennepin School District has prompted a reaction from those in favor of mask measures, with posts on the Twin Cities Vaccine Hunter Facebook page encouraging people to contact the district and express their support for masking, testing, and quarantine policies.

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Federal and state officials say that masks should be worn indoors by students and staff regardless of vaccination status as one of the tactics to mitigate COVID spread, though the state does not have the power to mandate that as Gov. Tim Walz no longer has an active peacetime emergency in place.

Anoka-Hennepin Schools straddles two counties, with Anoka County having the lowest vaccination rate of the 7-county Twin Cities metro (68% of people over the age of 12) and Hennepin County the highest (78% of people ages 12+).

There has been a rise in pediatric COVID cases seen nationwide since the spread of the delta variant started, with under 12s still not eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine.

The Wall Street Journal reports that while mortality in children from COVID is lower than adults, pediatric hospitalizations from the virus are still at the highest point since the Department of Health and Human Services started tracking them last year.

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