The St. Paul school board has canceled classes on Dec. 20 and 21 with no public notice that this would be discussed at the Nov. 29 meeting. This isn't the first time, either — Nov. 2, Election Day, was also declared a "digital learning day" without any opportunity for public comment.

This is not a COVID-19 mitigation measure. Students will return to class in January after a week of travel and holiday gatherings with the same risk of carrying COVID as if their break had started on Dec. 22.

The school board provided less than three weeks' notice for families to find child care for these two days. This is so disrespectful of the challenges parents have been facing trying to work and care for their children with all the chaos of the pandemic.

You might say, "It's just two days." However, it's been a lot more than that. Between conference days, holidays, MEA, and that "digital learning day" on Nov. 2, we have only had one five-day, in-person week out of the last six. Enough is enough. My child and all of our children need to be in school.

Unfortunately, this may not be the last time the school board makes last-minute changes to the school calendar. At the same meeting, they talked about "next steps" to include a survey about regularly changing some days in the new year from in-person to digital learning days. Again, not a COVID-19 mitigation measure, as the kids will still be in person for the rest of the week.

Parents, please let the school board and Superintendent Joe Gothard know if you are not in favor of this idea. School days need to be in-school days so parents can work and kids can learn. They need to be around other kids. They need structure for their learning. They need to feel like school matters and they matter.

Jane Peterson, St. Paul


Should grading in public schools change from the traditional method? Of course it should! But to the extreme documented in the Los Angeles Times editorial from Monday? Hold your horses ("Help students learn, not just comply," Nov. 29).

As an educator, I have examined my grading over the years. I have done away with extra credit and participation grades. I grade the material that matches the state standards. Students have a chance to redo much of that work. But I still give letter grades. Until colleges stop doing so, public schools must continue to use a grading scale, or we risk failing to prepare our students who choose to go on.

Do students need to show mastery in everything? Of course not. It's important to be exposed to things like biology, to use the example given, but to show mastery of the material is not always vital. How many of us still remember everything we mastered in high school? We remember the skills and work ethic that got us to that point, but I would likely fail a high school biology test today.

Change is good, and we should always look for better ways to do things. However, the editorial that was written smacks of outcome-based education, a fad that long ago disappeared, for good reason.

Mark Domeier, Ellendale, Minn.


Many families left Minneapolis Public Schools because they didn't keep siblings together ("Schools struggle as fewer enroll," Nov. 26). My youngest three children are all high school students this year; two (12th and 11th grade) got to continue at their MPS high school, but my youngest (ninth grade) wasn't allowed a spot in its freshman class even though that class is down 100 students from previous years. No sane district does this to families.

Sonja Elias, Minneapolis


Two historical postscripts

Multiple relevant details complement Curt Brown's informative Minnesota history article ("Graves tie Minnesota to colonial history," Nov. 21) on Stephen Taylor, the only Revolutionary War soldier known to be buried in Minnesota.

First, Taylor served from Berkshire County, Massachusetts, lived for a time in New York, and came to Minnesota with his extended family in 1854.

Second, as Brown notes, Taylor's claim to have been among the Patriots who attacked Fort Ticonderoga on May 8, 1775, has been challenged. The evening before that attack, 150 to 200 Connecticut, Massachusetts and Vermont volunteers under the joint command of Ethan Allen and Benedict Arnold (yes, that Benedict Arnold) rallied on the southeast shore of Lake Champlain in preparation for the attack. However, because of a lack of boats, only 83 crossed the lake to make the initial assault; the remainder followed later. The identities of the 83 are well-documented, but the identifies of the rest of the force have not been fully documented. Assuming Taylor was old enough, he could have been among those unidentified Massachusetts volunteers who participated in the attack but did not make the initial assault.

Third, a Stephen Taylor is well-documented to have been a member of Col. John Brown's Berkshire County regiment from Sept. 6 to Oct. 2, 1777, the same period during which a Patriot force was defeating the British at Saratoga 25 to 30 miles to the south of Fort Ticonderoga. As part of this Patriot effort, on Sept. 18, Brown's regiment unsuccessfully attacked Fort Ticonderoga, which the British had retaken earlier in 1777. Assuming the same Stephen Taylor, he likely participated in this second attack on Fort Ticonderoga.

Ronald E. McRoberts, Hugo

The writer is past president of the Minnesota Society, Sons of the American Revolution.


The excellent article "World's first vax stirred fears and falsities" (Nov. 21) about Edward Jenner and the first vaccination in 1796 against smallpox has more to it. There were definitely parallels in Britons' reactions to the vaccination and the reactions of Americans and others to today's COVID vaccinations. But the Spanish took an imaginative leap.

Spanish King Carlos IV didn't have the scruples of the Britons or many people today about the efficacy and safety of a vaccine. According to an article in National Geographic, the king tackled smallpox in a unique way. In November 1803, he sent ships with live virus to Spain's sprawling empire. The live virus was cowpox and the first carriers were 22 young boys from orphanages, followed by more boys during the voyage. The boys' pustules were used to infect the next boys. After visiting Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico and Central America, where they vaccinated many, they were replaced by Mexican boys. Some Spanish ships went south along the South American coast and other ships went on to the Philippines and China.

This venture ended in 1806, but the original commander of the expedition, Francisco Xavier de Balmis, went on with the project until 1813.

Parker Trostel, St. Louis Park

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