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Washington Elementary becomes second school in Rochester to return to masking; district changes policy

There have been five straight weeks of increases in the COVID infection rate since the district registered a low of 22 new cases the week of March 28-April 3.

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Washington District-Wide Elementary School, pictured Tuesday, May 10, 2022.
Jordan Shearer / Post Bulletin
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ROCHESTER — Washington Elementary on Monday became the second mainstream public school in Rochester to return to masking as the number of COVID cases continues to rise throughout the district.

Coinciding with Washington's return to masking, Rochester Public Schools issued a notice to families on Monday, explaining a change in its masking policy among elementary schools. Per that notice, individual elementary classrooms will be required to mask if 15% of the classroom tests positive for COVID.

"The decision for masking requirements at the classroom level was made to reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the classroom and to avoid transitioning students to distance learning," the notice to families said.

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Through it all, Benjamin has been an advocate for students, for teachers, for marginalized voices. And while she embodied that role before becoming teacher of the year, she said the past year has helped her learn how to operate better in that space as well.
"He’s really gone above and beyond to do all he can for the school and for the students,” his wife Kate Smith said.
“It really has demonstrated the wonderful things that are happening, not only for the school district but for the community as well," Principal Amanda Durnen said.

The 15% threshold is not entirely new. Previously, the threshold was a marker the district used to begin conversations about the possibility of moving a classroom to distance learning rather than a return to masking.

"The new classroom mask requirement at 15% is a mitigation effort to stop the spread that we are experiencing in contained classrooms," Leah Bancroft, Health Services Coordinator, said via email.


The threshold is lower for the building-level policy. At the building-wide level, schools are required to begin masking if 5% of the school population has reported positive for COVID.

Students districtwide were required to wear masks until the Rochester School Board allowed them to become optional starting March 7.

Last week, Longfellow Elementary was the first school in the district to reach that 5% threshold and return to requiring masking.

Longfellow registered 5% of its population as COVID-positive for a second week during May 2-8. Along with Longfellow, the list of schools and programs that reached the 5% threshold included Washington District-Wide Elementary, P-TECH, RAIL, and the Facilities Services Center.

Longfellow and Washington are both district-wide schools, meaning they draw students from across the city rather than a specific set of neighborhoods. Longfellow is located in southeast Rochester on Marion Road. Washington Elementary is located in northwest Rochester, just two blocks east of John Marshall High School.

P-TECH is a new program, housed at Rochester Community and Technical College, that allows high school students to gain college credit. RAIL, which stands for Rochester Academy for Independent Living, is a program that helps "young adults with disabilities integrate into the community and work settings," according to the district's website.

The school district has a weekly dashboard, showing the number of cases throughout the district. For the week of May 2-8, there were 260 new cases of COVID. Of that total, 205 were among elementary school students.

That weekly total of new cases was up 32 from the 228 recorded the week before. There have been five straight weeks of increases in the COVID count since the district registered a low of 22 new cases the week of March 28-April 3.

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
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