In the hallway

District families and community members will know Aug. 11 if students will occupy the hallways at the start of the 2020-21 year. Pictured, incoming Faribault High School students met with their teachers at Fly with the Falcons night in 2019. (News file photo)

No matter how Faribault Public Schools students resume classes in the fall, it won’t be like any other year.

Minnesota state officials on Thursday unveiled a plan to reopen schools this fall that gives districts some flexibility to toggle between in-person and online learning, but reserves the right for the state to step in if the coronavirus gets out of control.

Gov. Tim Walz, a former teacher, acknowledged the importance of schools and the value of in-person learning, but said the state’s top priority is safety. Districts will work with the state Health and Education departments to determine whether to use in-person instruction, online learning or a hybrid model, and will 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.

On Aug. 11, Faribault families and community members will receive more detailed information from the district on what to expect for the school year ahead. The Faribault School Board is expected to approve the decision at its meeting the evening prior. A task force consisting of board members, teachers and staff will finalize the recommendation by next week.

“I do want to give a lot of credit to the task force and teacher leadership,” Superintendent Todd Sesker said Thursday afternoon. “They’re really working hard behind the scenes to give students the best possible option, ensuring all students are safe and at the same time ensuring we do the best we can bringing as many students as we can back to school.”

Sesker said he was impressed with Walz’s delivery and pleased with the local control the plan allows. Another helpful piece to the plan, he said, is the regional support that will help in the decision-making process for superintendents. Sesker said Faribault’s support will come from either Mankato or Rochester.

Walz also mentioned in his announcement plan to invest $430 million in federal funding to support schools, teachers, students and their families as the pandemic continues. Locally, Sesker said that extra revenue would help offset the costs of extra transportation if the district implements a hybrid model, additional bus routes and more professional development for teachers.

Sekser also applauds Walz’s plan to rely on Public Health and determine the safety of going back to school based on cases per 10,000 in the county. He hopes the guideline gives individuals incentive to wear a mask to reduce the number of positive tests.

Republicans and some school officials had pressed Walz to leave reopening plans up to individual districts, arguing that local administrators know best how to protect students.

The guidance comes as coronavirus cases have been moving upward in some parts of the state. Minnesota reported 745 new cases on Thursday — 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.

Walz ordered Minnesota public and charter schools to close and switch to distance learning in mid-March 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.

Reporter Misty Schwab contributed to this article. She can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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