St. Cloud Times. October 8, 2021.

Editorial: Reliable and rapid internet access in rural Minnesota is more important than ever

Benton County wants to know how the digital infrastructure is working for residents.

And the answers matter, at least as much as almost any other infrastructure project undertaken today.

Benton County has put two short surveys out to residents and businesses to let the county know how well the internet offerings now serving them are working in the real world. And when it comes to internet service, the world got very, very real in March 2020 when huge swaths of business, all schooling, many college classes, most church services, a lot of commerce and a fair bit of socializing went digital overnight from bedrooms, home offices and kitchen tables, thanks to the pandemic.

If ever there was a system subjected to a live-action stress test, it was internet service in the past two years. So the time is right for Benton County (and other governments) to be asking how it went.

Here’s where residents of Benton County and businesses that operate there can weigh in on the current state of web traffic. At the link (www.co.benton.mn.us/674/Benton-County-Broadband) are two surveys. The one for residents asks about how they get their internet service, from which company, what they pay and what they use it for, among other things.

The survey for businesses asks how Benton County’s digital infrastructure is holding up in an era of remote work, remote customer service, broadband communications and the demise of landlines.

And in the interest of gathering data in addition to opinions, there’s a speed test link that anyone can use to see and report exactly how well their internet service is performing.

But the 2020-2021 biennium allocation was $40 million, the most to date but not enough to help local governments and the private sector level the digital playing field for all Minnesotans.

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Mankato Free Press. October 10, 2021.

Editorial: Art: Dakota sculpture helps heal Scaffold pain

The Dakota people offer forgiveness and redemption as part of their peace-embracing culture, and a new sculpture by a Dakota artist brings that healing to Minnesota.

The Walker Art Center and the Dakota community unveiled Saturday a new sculpture in the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden that celebrates Dakota culture and language and offers healing from the cultural tone deafness the institute displayed a few years ago when it allowed the gallows exhibit “Scaffold”.

Scaffold was a replica of the one used to hang 38 Dakota in Mankato at the end of the U.S.-Dakota War on Dec. 26, 1862, the largest mass execution in U.S. history. Scaffold was intended to start a discussion on capital punishment, but drew outrage instead from the Dakota and others for its cultural insensitivity and re-traumatization of Native people.

Protesters called it a hate crime. The Walker apologized and allowed it to be dismantled by a Dakota group and buried after a Native ceremony.

The new sculpture, called Okciyapi (Help Each Other), features a 47-foot wide labyrinth with seating and a bubbling fountain in the middle. It includes 24 panels highlighting Dakota words or phrases and people can scan a bar code and hear Dakota speakers. It’s designed to be a gathering space.

The new sculpture, by design, occupies the Scaffold site as part of a healing effort.

The fountain and water in the middle reflects the sky reminding people that the Dakota phrase Mni Sota Makoce for Minnesota means the land where the water reflects the sky.

Okciyapi was designed by Angela Two Stars, a Twin Cities Dakota woman, who grew up South Dakota’s Lake Traverse Reservation and has taken on projects that preserve the Dakota language as the number of people speaking it is declining. “Language is like a drop of water, a ripple across an entire pond,” Two Stars told the Star Tribune.

The Walker deserves credit for forming an Indigenous Public Art Selection Committee that was part of the organization’s reconciliation process stemming from Scaffold. That committee help chose the sculpture. And the center should consider itself a grateful recipient of Dakota forgiveness.

Okciyapi will stand as another poignant and beautiful Dakota contribution to the story of Minnesota and offers more forgiveness and healing from a peaceful people at a time when it is needed more than ever.

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Minneapolis Star Tribune. October 7, 2021.

Editorial: OK, lawmakers: Step up on COVID

Republicans, in particular, need to prove they want to keep schools safe.

Minnesota lawmakers often cited the need to “restore the Legislature as a coequal branch” of state government as a reason to end Gov. Tim Walz’s pandemic emergency authority.

Now that those gubernatorial powers are gone, it’s time for the Legislature to act like the pandemic management partner many members demanded it to be.

Minnesota’s current COVID-19 metrics are alarming even before winter sets in and we head back inside, where conditions facilitate viral spread. Action at the Capitol, not wishful thinking, is needed to save lives and prevent hospitalizations from overwhelming already exhausted medical providers.

Specifically, a statewide strategy to protect K-12 students and staff and keep them in the classroom without interruption — for which the Star Tribune Editorial Board has advocated for months — is urgent.

This week, Walz sent a letter to legislators outlining actions necessary to contain COVID. The missive comes as a special session looms to distribute $250 million in bonus pay to front-line workers. But the ongoing pandemic requires action as well, and the onus is on lawmakers to do so now that the governor’s emergency authority has ended.

Walz’s recommendations include measures that cut through red tape to provide flexibility to medical providers and long-term care centers. These likely won’t be controversial. What will be, however, is the call to enact stronger and more “consistent” COVID policies in K-12 schools.

Decisions on masking, testing, staff vaccination and other mitigation measures are handled by individual school districts. The result is a confusing patchwork that does little to protect kids, keep them in the classroom or halt the highly transmissible delta variant. While severe illness is infrequent in children, it still can happen, especially when there are more COVID cases in this age group.

Unfortunately, the state is seeing record COVID-19 case counts reported in Minnesota pre-K-12 schools, the Star Tribune reported recently. COVID is rising in the general population as well. Hospitalizations in the state hit a high-water mark for the year this week, reaching 847. On Wednesday, state health officials reported 40 new deaths.

Walz wants to see vaccine and testing requirements for teachers and staff. In addition, he is pushing for standardized statewide approaches to masking, testing programs, quarantining and parental notifications after exposure. Former state epidemiologist and infectious expert Michael Osterholm reviewed Walz’s recommendations and deemed them sensible. The Editorial Board agrees.

A standardized approach to testing, for example, would help ensure that schools take advantage of existing grant dollars to set up testing programs. A standardized approach to COVID exposure policies also would help parents better understand what to do if their child becomes ill.

A statewide approach to masking would be particularly helpful. Masking is included in the state Health Department’s “best practices” for COVID prevention. Yet heated rhetoric and even violence at school board meetings from opponents has potentially deterred board members from doing the right thing.

It’s unclear how many Minnesota schools have fully implemented the Health Department’s best practices. Other metrics do not inspire confidence, however. Just 57 districts have some sort of mask requirement in place, according to Education Minnesota. There are 326 public districts and 173 charter school districts in the state.

More schools also need to apply for grant money to set up testing programs. The deadline to do so was recently extended to Oct. 15.

The pandemic isn’t over. Legislators, Republicans in particular, said they wanted to partner with the governor to combat it. Now’s their chance.

END

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