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Rochester schools will require face masks for young learners

Students older than 12 are encouraged but not required to wear masks.

The Rochester Public School Board on Tuesday voted to require masks for younger learners who aren't eligible for the vaccine. 

The school board unanimously approved mask guidelines that interim Superintendent Kent Pekel recommended, which includes requiring face coverings for students between the ages of 2-11. 

"When we can't provide those younger learners with a vaccine and the protection the vaccine affords, it seems to be prudent to take this extra step," Pekel said, according to KTTC

Students age 12 and older, staff and other adults – all of whom are eligible for the vaccine – are encouraged but not required to wear masks.

Pekel in a memo to the school board said he made his recommendation after reviewing what the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics had recommended, saying: "While it is true that young children are much less likely than adults to become seriously ill due to COVID-19, the virus nonetheless poses a significant threat to the health of our youngest learners."

Related: CDC: Face masks recommended for everyone in places with 'substantial or high' COVID transmission

Related: 14 Minnesota counties have 'substantial or high' COVID-19 transmission

"When we have the opportunity as is anticipated to vaccinate younger children, and those rates of vaccination are sufficiently high, we could remove the requirement for our youngest learners,” Pekel said, according to MPR News. “So I wish I could tell the board that this is the last time that you'd be dealing with this, but I think it's very likely that we need to continue to be responsive to this situation over time."

The school board meeting attracted a large crowd of people protesting critical race theory (CRT), despite it being widely misinterpreted in current discourse, and despite the fact that it's not being introduced into Minnesota schools. 

Related [June 16]: Police break up 'disturbance' at anti-critical race theory conference in Moorhead

CRT wasn't on the agenda Tuesday night, and many who spoke during the public comment period were talking about CRT. 

Others who did testify on requiring masks both spoke in favor of and against the superintendent's guidelines. 

Longfellow Elementary School begins its school year on Thursday, according to KTTC, which prompted the superintendent to push the school board to make a decision on masks. 

Minnesota school districts will be able to make their own decisions on mask-wearing ahead of the 2021-22 year. Gov. Tim Walz said he could only implemented a statewide requirement if he declared another peacetime emergency, which he hasn't indicated he will do.

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