Minnetonka schools head: 'COVID is spreading outside of schools'

Minnetonka Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Peterson's grasp of coronavirus science seems... incomplete.

Minnetonka Public Schools Superintendent Dennis Peterson's grasp of coronavirus science seems... incomplete. YouTube

The superintendent of Minnetonka Public Schools is Dr. Dennis Peterson. 

To be clear: He's not that kind of doctor. Peterson's Ph.D. from the University of Colorado is in educational administration, which he's done at Minnetonka's school district (current student population: 10,900) since 2001.

On Thursday, Peterson introduced his recommendations to the school board for reopening the district under a "hybrid" model, one that allows for some in-person teaching and some distance learning. 

Peterson stated no student should be forced to attend school in person, and that some teachers won't want to come back, and others "may not be able to come back, due to their own health risks."

Those who can, and do, will experience the unique challenge of trying to teach distance learning -- a skill most would've tried for the first time ever last spring -- and in-person classes, simultaneously. Fun!

While Minneapolis and St. Paul schools will stick with distance learning to start the semester, the hybrid model is popular in the suburbs -- at least among those calling the shots. Most large suburban districts are planning on reopening on a hybrid basis, the Star Tribune reports.

Let's hope the people in charge are slightly better informed than Peterson, whose comments also drew the attention of Minnesota Reformer. In his remarks, Peterson seemed to question the worth of sending students home in the first place.

"COVID is spreading outside the schools," he said, stating the obvious, but then observing that this one preventative measure did not work to stop coronavirus altogether.

"The closure in the spring was intended to keep school age children from infecting grandma and granpda, and vulnerable parents, and other family members. How did that work? We still had thousands of grandmas and grandpas get it, and get ill, and many passed away. The system failed to recognize that students who are not in school go to other places, and that others in our society were not careful about their interactions with other people. Family members, or students, got the virus from those other engagements, they passed it along to other citizens. We know for sure that no student got it from school, because they are not in school."

Rather than simply condemn risky behavior taking place outside the school district's control, Peterson sounds a little regretful. If people keep spreading the virus and old people keep right on dying, why should schools be the only ones doing the right thing?

He then made a vague reference to "thousands of deaths and other health-related issues" caused by students' staying home, and said: "The research is clear that far more students suffered from the closure than from the coronavirus."

Yes, doctor. Do you think the reason students might not have suffered as much from the coronavirus is because... schools were closed?

"Other countries have successfully navigated the virus and did not close," said Peterson, who moved on with no indication the United States was one of those.

Peterson continued that school-age kids are "not as impacted by the virus, and are not good carriers of the virus," calling recent evidence to the contrary "just unnerving" and "not validated by officials."

Unless you count Dr. Anthony Fauci (many do!), who said late last month that children as young as 10 seem just as capable of transmitting the virus as adults. Then again, Fauci said that in an interview with MSNBC, and Peterson, for one, is not so sure about this whole journalism industry.

"It feels like sometimes the media tends to emphasize those studies that scare people, and increase concerns about the threat of the virus," he said. "Media has a mission to encourage people to stay away from each other, and to stay away from businesses and schools."

We do?

(We do not.)

Curiously, Peterson added that healthcare workers had continued working in person -- because they... had to? -- while neglecting to mention that as many as 200,000 had contracted the virus, and as many as 1,300 may have died.

Just before moving on to finally explaining the details of his hybrid plan, Peterson threw in one last sweeping statement. 

"There are probably more risks to our students and their families from the flu than there are from the virus."

This is sort of a throwback claim, as few have even tried comparing coronavirus and flu these since, say, March. But, for Peterson's sake, here's an excerpt from a recent National Geographic story:

What’s more, scientists today have a better sense of how to measure COVID-19's lethality, and the numbers are alarming. Using a more sophisticated calculation called the infection-fatality rate, paired with the past few months’ worth of data, the latest best estimates show that COVID-19 is around 50 to 100 times more lethal than the seasonal flu, on average.
This means that the U.S. and other countries seeing case surges need to brace for a very deadly summer and autumn if tactics don’t change.

We're still in the middle of that deadly summer, including in Minnesota, where 17 more people who'd tested positive for COVID-19 were reported dead over the weekend, raising the total to 1,657 to date, among a total case count of nearly 61,000. In the most recent data, per Minnesota Public Radio, the age bracket with the highest rate of increase is 20-29. Second is 0-19, the group Minnetonka and other school districts will soon welcome back.

"I realize that every point I make will probably have someone who disagrees with it," Peterson said.

As it happens, one of those someones was Denise Specht, president of the Education Minnesota teachers union. 

We'll have to see if Peterson's optimism survives the month of August -- or worse, if it's contagious.