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A hybrid model is the suggested format for Tri-City United Public Schools this fall, which means students may have classes in person some of the time and otherwise attend classes remotely. Pictured, TCU High School English teacher Carolyn Harmeyer taught a class in November 2019, just months before the coronavirus onset. (Misty Schwab/Lonsdale News Review)

Tri-City United Titans will likely set foot in their classrooms again this fall, but not 100% of the time.

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.

“I’m happy to see it wasn’t a ‘one size fits all,’” TCU Superintendent Lonnie Seifert said.

Based on the current cases per 10,000 in Le Sueur and Rice counties, Seifert said the hybrid model would be most appropriate for TCU Schools as of July 30. However, further feedback from parents will help the district solidify the plan moving forward.

TCU families already completed a survey earlier in the summer to share their preferences for a 2020-21 classroom model with the options of face to face, distance learning or a hybrid format. The district will release a second survey to gauge parents’ input now that the mask mandate is effective and Walz has made his announcement. Results will give the district an estimate of how many families plan to enroll their children in distance learning full time even if the hybrid model is an option.

Ultimately, Seifert said the district will have a more solid plan in place by Aug. 10. The administration will communicate with families and post updates at tcu2905.us.

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.

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