By Erin Hassanzadeh

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Mask mandates have been a hot topic at school board meetings across the country. But now districts like Eastern Carver County and Stillwater are moving to masks optional but recommended.

The state’s largest district, Anoka Hennepin, won’t require them unless there’s things like a certain level of community spread or absences. White Bear Lake’s rules are similar.

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South Washington County Schools will lift its requirement for elementary and middle schools next week, and there’s a whole flow chart of criteria guiding those decisions.

Nearly 4,000 students in the district have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year. At the peak in early-to-mid January, nearly 700 students tested positive. Last week, that figure was closer to 100.

“If we do see increased cases or increased illness in our schools, we would move back to increased health and safety measures and that could include masking for individuals, classrooms or individual schools,” said Pepe Barton, a spokesperson for South Washington County Schools.

Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools both say that they’re keeping an eye on things but have no plans to change COVID protocols or get rid of mask requirements right now.

“We know the best place for students and staff is in the classroom and our obligation is to do so as safely as possible,” said Kevin Burns, an St. Paul Public Schools spokesperson.

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The city’s board of education will re-visit all protocols again before April 1.

“We don’t want to let our guard down,” Burns said. “We do have built-in recurring review and guidance so that if there’s a need to change we will do that.”

Here’s one local pediatricians take.

“Right now is not the time,” said Dr. Hannah Lichtsinn, an internist and pediatrician at Hennepin Healthcare. “The American Academy of Pediatrics and the CDC both recommend universal masking for students and staff at schools and have made no recommendation to stop it.”

Many districts that won’t require masks still strongly recommend them.

“I think eventually we’ll get to that point where we do not need masks to keep kids safe, but we still do now,” Lichtsinn said. “They are an excellent and easy mode of protection against this virus.”

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There’s still a federal requirement to wear masks on school busses.

Erin Hassanzadeh