Itasca County Schools to recommend, but not require masks

Itasca County School Districts share plans for fall Leaders of Itasca County Schools provided an update on their plans for fall Thursday.

Deer River, Greenway, Nashwauk/Keewatin and the Big Fork/Grand Rapids school districts all said that masks would be strongly recommended for staff and students, but not required at the start of the school year.

Big Fork/Grand Rapids Superintendent Matt Grose weighed in on what went into this decision.

“Last year, we had state requirements around masking and around offering online learning and that created the environment in which we could operate both from an enforcement and from a legal perspective. We don’t have that environment right now and so that means that decisions ultimately fall on school boards and the enforcement of those decisions falls on school leaders, principals, people in the schools trying to enforce a policy and that enforcement becomes very, very challenging,” Grose said.

Grose added that this decision is subject to change based on recommendations from the Minnesota Department of Health and the CDC.

Leaders of Itasca County School Districts also shared that they hope to offer rapid COVID-19 testing opportunities for students this fall. Those could be administered by school staff or parents.

“It looks like there may be rapid tests available at school, which would enable us to return a kid back to class in 20 or 30 minutes if the test is negative,” Grose said.

On the collegiate level, Itasca County Community College said masks will be required for all students, staff and visitors when they are on campus.

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“Many of the things that we are doing in Itasca are true for community colleges across Northeastern Minnesota,” Dr. Bart Johnson, Chief Academic Officer at Itasca Community College said.

Masks will not be required for athletics, however. Johnson said student athletes who have not been vaccinated will undergo regular testing for COVID-19 instead.

Itasca County Schools are also encouraging families to get their COVID-19 vaccines if they haven’t yet.