Rhonda Silence

With governor’s announcement, local schools can continue planning for fall

Governor Tim Walz and other Minnesota state officials unveiled a plan this afternoon to reopen schools this fall during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The plan gives districts some flexibility to combine in-person and online learning, but reserves the right for the state to step in if the coronavirus gets out of control.

Governor Walz acknowledged the importance of schools and the value of in-person learning, but said the state’s top priority is safety.

The news is about what was anticipated by School District 166 board members and Superintendent Bill Crandall. At their meeting on July 28, ISD 166 staff said they hoped, districts could receive guidance from the state Health and Education departments to determine whether to use in-person instruction, online learning or a hybrid model.

And, as expected, schools will also have the ability to become more or less restrictive depending on the virus.

The plan requires both public schools and charter schools to allow students and teachers to choose remote learning, no matter what model the district chooses. This gives families with concerns about health conditions the option to avoid potential spread of COVID-19.

The guidance comes as coronavirus cases have been moving upward in some parts of the state. Minnesota reported 745 new cases on July 30—slightly higher than the seven-day average—and five new deaths. State officials have warned of rising hospitalizations, but that number dipped slightly in Thursday’s data.

State health and education officials last month asked school districts to prepare for three scenarios: in-person learning for all students, distance learning as in the spring, or a hybrid learning scenario with social distancing and capacity limits.

President Donald Trump has pressed schools nationwide to open for in-person learning, and as many teachers have expressed fears of doing so. Education Minnesota, the state teachers’ union, last week released a survey with just one in five teachers supporting in-person learning.

Administrators for Minneapolis Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the state, said Tuesday they plan to start the school year Sept. 8 with distance learning. Their plan would require remote learning as the primary method of instruction, though buildings would remain open for tutoring, technology and mental health support for students and families.

Back in mid-March 2020, Walz ordered Minnesota public and charter schools to close and switch to distance learning as COVID-19 cases began to appear in the state, affecting nearly 900,000 students and their families. As the number of coronavirus cases in Minnesota grew, the governor extended the closure through the school year and prohibited large-scale high school and college graduation ceremonies.

How this will impact local schools is an evolving story. Stay tuned as WTIP reaches out to local schools for more information.