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Gov. Tim Walz advocating vaccine and mask usage as school starts

"This community has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country," Gov. Tim Walz said. "And again, I thank the school board for making hard choices."

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Governor Tim Walz talks with Jefferson Elementary School kindergarteners while swinging on the swings during a visit to the school as part of an effort to highlight the importance of in-person learning and to encourage people in Minnesota ages 12 and up to get vaccinated against COVID-19 Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER, Minn. — Gov. Tim Walz chided the resistance some have shown to mask usage in schools during a visit to Jefferson Elementary on Wednesday, saying grown adults should know better.

Walz's visit to the northeast Rochester school was meant to encourage the use of vaccines and other safety measures as the new school year gets underway.

Students younger than 12 are ineligible to get a COVID-19 vaccine. According to Rochester Public Schools, everybody must wear masks while in school facilities, as well as while on school transportation.

After spending time with some students and giving a few blanket comments, the governor let his feelings be known.

"We will not let them push each other on the slides; we ask them not to run on the playground," Walz said. "We're adults and we know what protects them. So it shouldn't be that hard to say 'the science says: put them in a mask.'"

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During his visit, Walz spoke with Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel, as well as Principal Heather Klavetter, before addressing members of the media. Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Heather Mueller and state Rep. Tina Liebling also spoke.

"We have some pretty excited students probably looking out the windows right now," Klavetter told Walz as they met on the school's playground. "We're off to a great start. I think that our students and our families know our routines now, so kicking it off this year has been smoother for us."

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Governor Tim Walz, center, talks with Jefferson Elementary School Principal Heather Klavetter as Rochester Public Schools Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel, right, stands by during a visit to the school as part of an effort to highlight the importance of in-person learning and to encourage people in Minnesota ages 12 and up to get vaccinated against COVID-19 Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

Walz, a former teacher and football coach in Mankato, spoke of the importance of getting vaccinated to protect those who are unable to, gesturing to a group of students playing on the playground.

"This community has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country," Walz said. "I thank the school board for making hard choices... putting the mitigations in place to protect those who can't get vaccinated, and that is all these little ones."

In addition to advocating for vaccines, both Walz and Mueller reiterated the importance of keeping students in the school buildings rather than reverting back to distance learning.

Walz defended and commended the school board for its stance toward COVID-19 mitigation.

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Walz's visit to Jefferson came less than 24 hours after a contentious school board meeting. People argued with district officials about whether they had to wear masks to enter the board room. Shortly after starting the meeting, Board Chairwoman Jean Marvin called a 30-minute recess since some people refused to comply with the mask requirement.

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Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Dr. Heather Mueller speaks to the media during a visit to Jefferson Elementary School with Governor Tim Walz as part of an effort to highlight the importance of in-person learning and to encourage people in Minnesota ages 12 and up to get vaccinated against COVID-19 Wednesday, Sept. 8, 2021, in Rochester. Joe Ahlquist / Post Bulletin

"We can recess again; we can do this all night long," Marvin said Tuesday after asking the audience members to make sure their masks were covering their mouths and noses.

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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