Yes, we're all COVID-19 weary — tired of the restrictions and limitations that the pandemic has forced upon us. That's why Anoka-Hennepin School District students and families turned out by the dozens this week to support sports and other extracurriculars.
They spoke up in protest of the district's Friday decision to shut down activities, including fall sports, as cases spike and middle and high schools move to distance learning.
On Monday, the school board responded to the community outcry and voted to allow sports and other school programs to continue.
While the desire to "return to normal" is understandable, it's best to err on the side of caution. Community spread rates have increased in the Upper Midwest — especially among younger people. When COVID-19 rates and other state-designated factors require distance learning, extracurriculars deserve a high level of scrutiny.
As Gov. Tim Walz said, sports and other school activities are important to young people. But Walz rightly expressed concern about students participating in extracurriculars when their classwork is all online. "What we're a bit nervous about now is how we certainly can't have the activities take precedence over trying to get the kids back in the schools as safely as possible," he said.
Because of Minnesota's recent increase in COVID-19 cases, many metro-area school leaders have decided or are considering moving to hybrid or all-distance learning. They are basing their choices on the Safe Learning Plan, issued earlier this year by the state departments of education (MDE) and health (MDH). Those guidelines seek to strike the appropriate balance between getting schools and activities back on track and protecting public health.
It said the school districts and charter schools will need to take into account "not only the county-level case data when determining learning models, but also the number of confirmed cases, quarantines, and close contacts in your school community, each school building within your district, and other data such as individuals with influenza-like illness."
MDE calls it a "scalpel approach" that allows schools within the same county to have different learning models. The clarification means that for now, districts like Anoka-Hennepin can keep playing football and other sports and activities even as classes are moved online.
Statewide, sporting events have been associated with 3,410 known infections, or 2.5% of the total, MDH reported this week. A total of 593 of those infected were involved in high-school-age athletics, and in the past week there were two confirmed outbreaks related to high school soccer and volleyball.
As school districts monitor day-to-day changes in COVID-19 cases, the health of students, staff and the wider community must be the top priority — not a football or soccer game.