Minnesota health and education officials in June asked school administrators to plan for three scenarios on reopening in the fall, and promised a decision by the week of July 27 on which of the three will be used.

K-12 schools will be restarting under the cloud of the coronavirus. The state Health and Education departments asked administrators to prepare for in-person learning for all students; hybrid learning with social distancing and capacity limits; and distance learning only.

“Decisions around the fall may change as we learn more about which scenario will be in the best interest of public health, and specifically the health and safety of our school communities,” the Department of Health said in a statement that included a link to a 16-page document guiding schools.

The Department of Education published a more extensive 100-page document.

School districts plan

Tri-City United Superintendent Teri Preisler said the district’s leadership team of principals and directors, with teaching staff representatives at each level, have reviewed and developed distance learning models to implement in the upcoming school year if needed. The hybrid model, which will combine distance learning with classroom learning, will be a bit more complex. Plus, making it possible for 50% occupancy at each school and 50% occupancy in transportation, she said, “is going to really take some deep work.”

With more information available from MDE and MDH, Preisler said the district is collecting parent input to help the leadership team know what to expect in the fall. Surveys will determine how many families intend to send their children to school and which families will need distance learning models.

Preisler, who retires July 1, has been in communication with Lonnie Seifert, who will succeed her as TCU superintendent mid-summer. The two will meet the week prior to the change to discuss the transitional pieces and include new principals at TCU Lonsdale Elementary and TCU Montgomery, as well as the new TCU High School assistant principal.

Le Sueur-Henderson is assembling a committee made up of teachers, staff, students and parents to provide input on district plans for in-person, hybrid and distance learning in the fall. The committee will meet twice to provide feedback and a final review.

When constructing its plans, Superintendent Marlene Johnson said that the district will be using a statewide survey conducted by the MDE and surveys sent out by the district during distance learning.

“It is key to get input from our families in various formats, as we move through these challenging times,” said Johnson. “Our collaboration is how one we can show we care about our students, staff, parents, and community members. Together, we will achieve success to the highest level.”

Cleveland Public Schools is currently in the beginning stages of forming a plan. Superintendent Brian Phillips said that he has been reviewing guidance documents from a variety of institutions including the MDE, MDH, CDC and MSBA. On the week of June 29, Phillips said administration will start building three different plans with input from the School Board, union representatives, parents and staff.

{div}”We need to answer questions such as: learning plan, tech needs, facilities cleaning, budget constraints, staff leaves, student attendance, required hours of instruction, med records and privacy, communications plan etc,” said Phillips. “Not to mention everyone’s safety as a priority — while maintaining social distancing on buses, hallways, etc.”

“What I do know is that the plans will have to be flexible and adapt to the changing environment,” Phillips continued. “I would also imagine parents would like to know what is happening this Fall in regards to schools. Some of the parent surveys I read showed around 50% of the parents were in favor of sending their kids back to school as normal. Again, my guess would be that any plan should also have contingencies built in for parents who aren’t comfortable sending their kids back to school.”

The St. Peter School Board recently approved a teacher training plan to prepare for hybrid learning at its June 15 School Board meeting. Training will be led by a hybrid learning coach, a K-12 teacher charged with developing a training plan for teachers and paraprofessionals. A “train the teacher” model consisting of in-person and online lessons will be developed to instruct 20 teachers and 15 paraprofessionals. There would also likely be additional training for teachers and paraprofessionals in August.

This training would be focused on how teachers can best serve classrooms in which students are partially attending in-person or remotely and how to confront the social and emotional difficulties that come with the setup. The costs for these training programs are estimated to total more than $50,000 and would be reimbursed through the CARES Act.

State leaders react

Republicans quickly criticized the state for waiting until late July to make a decision. Rep. Ron Kresha of Little Falls and Rep. Sondra Erickson of Princeton, the GOP leads on a pair of education committees, said in a statement that locally elected school boards and superintendents should be allowed to “chart the best path forward.”

“Let’s let our local schools take the lead so our students and their families have the clarity they need for the fall,” they said.

The numbers of new virus cases and hospitalizations in Minnesota have been leveling off lately.

Gov. Tim Walz gave the order in mid-March for Minnesota public and charter schools to close and switch to distance learning as coronavirus cases were just starting to show up in the state. That order affected nearly 900,000 students and their families. The governor followed his school closure order with a statewide stay-at-home order later in March.

The governor later extended the closure through the school year, and essentially banned large-scale high school and college graduation ceremonies for the class of 2020 as the number of coronavirus cases in Minnesota grew.

Steve Karnowski, of Associated Press, contributed to this report.

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