Eden Prairie Schools continue to plan for different scenarios for COVID-19 mitigation efforts when school begins this fall, including the use of masks indoors, according to a district spokesman.
The district has not announced which way it will go, choosing instead to continue working with state and county health agencies. The district is reviewing recent guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), according to Brett Johnson, district senior director of community relations and communications.
“The connection to state and county public health agencies are important because they help us understand both our state and local contexts, so we can design plans that fit our community,” Johnson told EPLN in an email. “As a district, teams have been planning for multiple guidance scenarios and will be implementing layered mitigation strategies (as we have always done).”
More information will be shared with district families in the coming weeks, Johnson said.
Area schools beginning to decide, others wait
School districts surrounding Eden Prairie are set to face the mask issue throughout August.
According to a Twin Cities metro-area senior school administrator source who spoke with EPLN, many school superintendents are weighing guidance from the school and health agencies highly recommending, but not requiring, mask usage in schools versus making other decisions – requiring masks, making exceptions, etc…- which could paint their district as an outlier.
Some districts are also likely avoiding making near-term decisions on mask usage in order to reduce the period of time in which school boards will be subject to expected parental backlash – whatever the decision – prior to the start of school, noted the metro-area school administrator.
The next regular Eden Prairie school board meeting is August 23, at 6 p.m. Eden Prairie school classes begin Sept. 8.
Edina’s school board is set to decide on a return-to-school plan Aug. 17. Hopkins Schools told its parents on its website that it would provide COVID-19 mitigation information in early August. Minnetonka Public Schools’ website promises updates as provided by the MDH.
Eastern Carver County Schools, which includes Chaska and Chanhassen, announced Aug. 5 that the district will begin school full-time and with in-person classes strongly recommending – but not requiring – face masks for all students and staff regardless of vaccination status, according to a letter from Superintendent Lisa Sayles Belton on the district’s website.
EP Online: Eden Prairie schools online option
Eden Prairie schools have been planning for a return to full-time, in-person classes since the end of the previous school year.
EP Online had 2,500 students registered last school year due to COVID-19 classroom restrictions. District officials told EPLN in March 2021 that between 375 and 500 of those students are expected to return to online learning in the 2021-22 school year.
Additionally, the district projected at that time that 320 students would open enroll in the program for the upcoming school year.
According to the Twin Cities metro-area school administrator, that school has experienced an increased interest in online learning and enrollment in 2021-22, despite the overall downturn in the prevalence of COVID-19.
Requests for information from Eden Prairie Schools regarding current EP Online registrations were not immediately returned.
Updated MDH and MDE guidance
Local school districts will make the final decision on mask wearing and other mitigations efforts. The guidance most school districts are likely to use comes from the MDH and MDE.
Those organizations updated their best practice recommendations on July 28.
The key points of that guidance included:
- All people ages 12 years and older should get vaccinated for COVID-19 before returning to in-person school, sports, or other activities.
- All students, teachers, staff, and visitors in school building should wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.
- Schools should maintain at least three feet of physical distance between students indoors regardless of vaccination status.
- Students, teachers, and staff should stay home if they feel sick.
- Students, teachers, and staff who have been fully vaccinated do not need to stay home even if they have had recent close contact with a confirmed case, so long as they do not have symptoms and no not test positive.
- People who are not fully vaccinated and returning to in-person school, sports, or extracurricular activities (and their families) should get tested regularly for COVID-19.
- Schools should encourage ventilation, contact tracing in combination with isolation and quarantine handwashing, respiratory etiquette, cleaning, and disinfection.
COVID rates rising
Eden Prairie’s 14-day trend of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents has increased from 1.3 to 8.6 since mid-June according to the Hennepin County COVID-19 public dashboard. The city’s rate topped out at more than 100 cases per 10,000 residents in Nov. 2020.
Eden Prairie has recorded 5,250 COVID-19 cases and 23 deaths as of July 29, according to the dashboard.
Hennepin County’s case rate has increased from 2.8 to 10.0 in the same time period. Communities surrounding Eden Prairie also have recorded similar increases, according to county data.
As of Aug. 4, 62.5% of Hennepin County residents had received at least one dose of COVID vaccine, according to vaccine data at mn.gov.