Minnesota is home to close to 900,000 K-12 students. Tens of thousands of them have been locked out of their classrooms for nearly a year. The rest live with uncertainty, too, transitioning mostly to and from hybrid- and distance-learning models at the whims of the Minnesota Safe Learning Plan.

The "plan" was supposed to bring order to public education amid the pandemic. Instead, its arbitrary rules drive confusion and frustration for school officials, parents and students, as well as a burgeoning mental health crisis, growing achievement gaps, academic slide and teacher burnout.

A recent online survey from Let Them Learn MN gauged the concerns of parents, adding fresh evidence to the harm caused by isolation and alternative learning models required by the Safe Learning Plan. Of parents surveyed, 84% are concerned about their children's mental health and academic growth, 80% reported anxiety or signs of depression in their children, 28% said their kids required mental health treatment, 68% said their students experienced lower grades, and 30% had a student failing at least one course.

Beyond surveys, the real science is clear, and the experts agree that schools are safe for students and teachers, particularly given the comprehensive mitigation measures now in place. Distance-learning can and should remain a choice, of course. But if private school students in surrounding states can attend school in person, full time, why can't all students in the state of Minnesota? The time is now for the state to act with a sense of urgency to reopen public schools for all students.

Kyle Christensen, Farmington

The writer is co-founder of Let Them Learn MN.

MINING

Not the whole economy up here

As reported in the Star Tribune at the end of January, U.S. Rep. Pete Stauber has doubled down on his "mining trumps everything else" dogma. While it is historical fact that the mining of high-grade iron ore stimulated the economy of Minnesota's Eighth District during the early 20th century, that industry has suffered many geologic and technologic setbacks since. Instead of iron or taconite, however, he is now promoting efforts by foreign-owned mining companies to remove copper, nickel and other ores from mines in the Boundary Waters and St. Louis River watershed. Similar mining operations by these companies have resulted in devastating and irreparable environmental damage in locations around the world.

Copper/nickel "hard rock" mining requires removal of rock with high sulfur content. When that rock is exposed to air and water it becomes highly toxic. Such mines are very likely to pollute the surrounding water and air with sulfuric acid, mercury and previously buried natural radioactive minerals. All copper mines listed in a report from the U.S. Geological Survey recorded spills from pipelines and almost all have contaminated the groundwater.

Stauber has a view of Eighth Congressional District economics that is seriously out of date. He refers to the proposed PolyMet and Twin Metals projects as crucial to the Iron Range economy. In truth, even iron production is no longer central to the Eighth District economy. Many more work in the hospitality industries. While Rep. Stauber will argue he is speaking for the "working men and women" of the district, he is actually advocating for short-term employment of a tiny minority. The copper-nickel deposits at the focus of this legislation are projected to be exhausted in 20-25 years, according to the mining companies themselves. The associated threat to trees, air, lakes and community drinking water could possibly eliminate the jobs of several times as many Minnesotans. It is irresponsible to advocate for an environmentally devastating mining process and concurrently disregard the substantial possibility that it could destroy the Eighth District's hospitality industry forever.

Thomas Day, Duluth
• • •

In Lisa Rudstrom's Feb. 3 commentary "Buy American? Block Minnesota mining? Choose one," she closes a long and complex argument in favor of Twin Metals mining with the summation, "Let the science prove it." Under the Trump administration, the legal and proper part of the process to study the science was cut short and covered up. If we all agree we want science and process under law to rule the day, we must start with a completion of that study. The watershed and the Boundary Waters ecosystem is at stake here, so yes, let the science guide us, first through completion and publication of that study.

I'm part of the economic lifeblood of the region. Our family business is at stake here. In our 42-year-old growing enterprise as a canoe outfitter, outdoor retailer and cataloger, we depend on the Boundary Waters to remain pristine and untainted. People buy our products, come to our store, rent our equipment and come to Ely because of the Boundary Waters and its reputation as pure and untainted. People come to our region to retire, build homes and build businesses because of the Boundary Waters and its purity. The process supported by the Star Tribune Editorial Board will reveal how a Twin Metals sulfide ore mine would impact our business and our regional economics in addition to revealing the risks to the ecosystem of the Boundary Waters.

Steve piragis, Ely, Minn.

LINE 3 PIPELINE

Why pursue oil over green jobs?

As a retired member of Operating Engineers Local 49, I want to apologize to all who were offended by the comments made by Jason George, the current business manager of Local 49. In his Star Tribune tirade against DFL legislators ("Legislators didn't talk to workers," Opinion Exchange, Feb. 1), he totally ignores the point of the protests over the Line 3 pipeline.

To reverse climate change, we must discontinue the use of fossil fuels, especially tar sands. Building Line 3 is doubling down on the wrong side of the ongoing climate emergency. The tar sands oil that will move through it requires considerably more energy and effort to move and refine it. Also, Canadian tar sands are extremely carcinogenic and should be left in the ground.

Hopefully, President Joe Biden will slow climate degradation and lessen health risks to Minnesotans by having the Army Corps rescind the water permits for Line 3, thereby stopping its construction.

If George wants to get increased employment for his membership, he should quit signing agreements with contractors that allow them to hire heavy-equipment operators from outside of 49's jurisdiction. He could also work with climate activists and champion green energy jobs — 49ers build wind farms; they can build anything. Unfortunately, he is likely to continue to waltz with the climate deniers and will push us into more climate disasters and continue risking Minnesotans health and safety.

Mike Kuitu, Duluth

VACCINE

Equity for whom, exactly?

I noted the headline in Thursday's paper about vaccination equity ("State falls behind on vaccine equity," front page). And I'm not really seeing this term defined. We have groups 1a, 1b, etc., with loose and fuzzy definitions. Is equity based on likelihood of being exposed to the virus or dying from the virus? The daily report is very clear on who is dying.

Susan Fahning, Coon Rapids

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