On May 24, PA communicated the following regarding the coming school year, which we reaffirm today:
Providence Academy will not require face coverings. This commitment could only be countermanded by a “mask mandate” applicable to all persons, such as was in effect statewide from July 25, 2020 until May 14, 2021.
Face coverings will be optional for all PA community members as we begin the new school year, as there is no mask mandate. Face coverings have of course been optional since May in countless venues throughout the state.
Children are benefitting tremendously from opportunities to be together. This is so important, because so many children and young people in our nation–especially among those unable even to attend school–suffered last year from anxiety, depression, social anxiety, lack of socialization, and lack of learning, among other pathologies. There were adverse physical, social, mental, psychological, and spiritual effects from some of the more dramatic efforts to battle Covid. We acknowledge that there were many mysteries about the disease, and we all had to make decisions about how to navigate amid the mysteries.
There are fewer mysteries now. We do know that respiratory viruses give rise to variants, and we will likely be living with these for quite a while. But Covid cases (including the delta variant), hospitalizations, and deaths have plummeted in relation to earlier highs in Minnesota, a state which also leads the nation in overall vaccination rates. Minnesota hospitalizations of school-age children have been and remain very low. School-age mortality from Covid is virtually non-existent. PA’s own experience with Covid last year was that symptoms and severity among children who contracted the illness were similar to those from other seasonal respiratory illnesses. There were no hospitalizations among the 42 PA community members (out of more than 900 total students, faculty, and staff) who contracted the disease last school year.
The incidence of Covid cases in our community was approximately 4.7 percent. During that time, from September 1, 2020, to June 4, 2021, the incidence of Covid cases in Minnesota was approximately 9.4 percent (source: MDH graph). With a universal mask mandate in effect throughout the state, the Covid frequency inside the PA community was half of what it was outside PA. And we were in session every day.
Covid and its delta variant are of course serious respiratory illnesses. We all know adults who have suffered seriously, and some who have lost their lives. We will retain our “Covid Dashboard” webpage, and update it continually. We always reserve the right, should PA’s ongoing experience with Covid show that the disease poses significant threats to our community’s health, to amend our policies.
But we will launch the school year with local-data-driven confidence, and a healthy respect for the freedom and responsibility of our families. We will respect each family’s decision regarding face coverings, and will provide access to SimulClassroom once again so as to facilitate each family’s comfort in exercising its freedom.
We will provide further details of PA’s approach to community health as these develop this month. One thing we’ll want to remind everybody of: let’s remember that some seasonal “bugs” start hitting the school community in the fall, usually around late September and early October. We’re going to need to learn how to be “normal sick” again, as we let children’s immune systems (and ours!) develop naturally.