Education Minnesota repeated its call for educators and other adults in the school community to keep themselves and their students safe after the Minnesota Department of Health reported the third death of a school staff member in the current school year. Eleven school staff members have now died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

“There are too many sick people in our buildings, too many buildings that aren’t following best practices to control the virus and, to be blunt, too many people dying,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “The experts have told us how to operate schools safely during the pandemic – but we need every school to actually follow the rules.”

Specht called on every school district to follow the guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health for operating more safely during the pandemic, including masking, testing, social distancing and vaccinations.

“We all know there’s a shortage of staff and substitutes, but we can’t let that be an excuse for educators feeling pressure to work when they’re sick,” she said. “More districts should use the extra resources they’ve received this year to provide paid leave for staff who are sick, in quarantine or need time to get vaccinated.”

Specht said parents without paid sick leave also feel pressure to take their children to school even when those children should stay home.

“If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that Minnesota needs to provide more safety nets for families,” she said. “In the short term, however, sick kids and adults need to stay home if we’re going to keep the buildings open this fall.”

Since the pandemic began in 2020, 11 school staff members and one student have died of COVID-19, according to state data. Eight educators died during the previous school year; three have now died in the first month of the 2021-22 school year. Since August 2020, there have been 33,876 COVID-19 cases associated with schools and 324 hospitalizations of students and staff. The total number of school-related infections increased by more than 7% from the previous report.

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