Changes in Guidance for Physical Education Beginning 1.18.2021

Face Coverings During Physical Education Class

Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year: Additional Required Mitigation Strategies and Tools Schools Must Implement for Any In-Person or Hybrid Learning Model Beginning January 18, 2020:

  • Face coverings must be worn when engaging in indoor physical activity (e.g., during indoor recess, indoor physical education class, or when exercising in a gym).
  • For early learning and elementary schools only: All special lessons must be held in the classroom or outside (weather permitting) however,  physical education classes that cannot operate in the classroom may continue to be held indoors outside of individual classrooms so long as students and staff are wearing face coverings.
  • It is strongly recommended that districts and charter schools require staff to wear face masks and face shields together whenever possible during the school day. School districts and charter schools should strongly consider the following as the only exemptions for their masking and face shield requirement policy:
    • When staff are serving students in settings where seeing a person’s lips is necessary, staff are strongly encouraged to wear a clear face mask in addition to the required face shield. If they do not have access to a clear face mask, they can choose to only wear the required face shield.
    • When staff are providing direct services that require close, physical, and prolonged contact, schools should follow MDH’s Guidance for Delivering Direct Student Support Services: Staff Protective Equipment.
    • When staff are preforming duties in which a face mask and a face shield worn together are creating a safety concern (e.g. visual impairment while operating a vehicle, working in a kitchen, lab etc.), staff may choose to only wear the required face mask.
    • For additional information regarding when a face shield (a clear plastic barrier that covers the face) may be used as an alternative to a face covering see MDH’s 2020-21 Planning Guide for Schools: Health Considerations for Navigating COVID-19.

Exemptions to Masking During Physical Education Activities

The following masking exemptions are identified in the Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Sports Practice Guidance for Youth and Adults during the following activities:

  • For gymnastics, if there are concerns about safety in regards to choking or the face covering getting caught on objects, athletes (students) may temporarily remove the face covering during activities such as tumbling/stunting/flying or on certain apparatuses. However, athletes (students) must wear face coverings for all other practices and routines.
  • Individuals (students) who swim/dive/participate in water sports should not wear a cloth face covering while they are in the water.

Two other activities are also identified as masking exemptions from the Minnesota Department of Health, but are not pertinent to a general education physical education curriculum: cheerleading and wrestling.
For further information on wearing face coverings during sports activities please see the following guidance: American Academy of Pediatrics COVID-19 Interim Guidance: Return to Sports.
All other previous guidance regarding social distancing, equipment, sanitation, hygiene, dressing out, use of locker rooms and activity selection based on risk remain current. Information for all of these topics can be found on the #MNSHAPERISE MDE ZOOM recorded session at
For questions, please contact Mary Thissen-Milder, PhD, Minnesota Department of Education Physical Education Consultant, at [email protected].

Guidance Documents

American Academy of Pediatrics COVID-19 Interim Guidance: Return to Sports

Minnesota Department of Education 2020-21 Planning Guidance for Minnesota Public Schools

Minnesota Department of Education Physical Education in the 2020-21 School Year Recommendations and Resources

Minnesota Department of Health 2020-21 Planning Guide for Schools: Health Considerations for Navigating COVID-19

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Sports Practice Guidance for Youth and Adults

Minnesota Department of Health COVID-19 Prevention Guidance for Youth and Student Programs

Minnesota's Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year

For questions contact Mary Thissen-Milder, PhD, MDE Physical Education Consultant at  [email protected]