Rochester schools mandate masks — for two-year-olds

Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel said face coverings protect students who aren't eligible for vaccines.

Rochester Public Schools/Facebook

Earlier this week, Rochester Public Schools voted to require students as young as two to wear masks inside school facilities during the upcoming school year.

The district noted the COVID-19 vaccine has not been approved for children below age 12. So children between 2 and 12 will be required to wear masks, while those 12 and older can go mask-free.

Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel said face coverings protect students who aren’t eligible for vaccines.

“When we have the opportunity as is anticipated to vaccinate younger children, and those rates of vaccination are sufficiently high, we could remove the requirement for our youngest learners,” Pekel said. “So I wish I could tell the board that this is the last time that you’d be dealing with this, but I think it’s very likely that we need to continue to be responsive to this situation over time.”

While Rochester recommends children over 12 also wear masks, they won’t mandate the coverings, since those kids are eligible to take the vaccine. The policy is in place until further notice as the school district is reportedly concerned with the rise in COVID-19 cases due to the Delta variant.

Some experts, like Dr. Marty Markary from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and pediatric psychiatrist Dr. Mark McDonald — who led a roundtable discussion with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis Monday — disagree with those advocating masks for children.

“My position is simple. Masking children is child abuse,” said McDonald, who claimed that “there’s substantial evidence that shows that children have been medically, physically, and psychologically harmed by mandatory mask mandates.”

“In fact, I even reinforced this position. I’ve seen hundreds of children in the last year come to my practice who are coughing, spitting, sick in the throat, streptococcal infections, conjunctivitis, impetigo, allergic reactions, panic attacks, all from masks. Not a single child has benefited medically from wearing a mask, and they’ve all been hurt,” he added.

Meanwhile, much-maligned CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recommended this week that everyone — including vaccinated teachers and staff — should wear masks inside K-12 schools, a flip-flop from recent guidance saying that inoculated adults need not don masks indoors.

As has been the case in recent weeks across Minnesota, a large group of concerned parents showed up at the Rochester school board meeting Tuesday to listen and speak their minds about masks, which are increasingly unpopular.

“They prevent communication and social interaction. They can impair language skills, they can cause anxiety, headaches and other symptoms,” one parent, whose children have been learning at home because she doesn’t want them to mask in school, said.