Tri-City United Schools have begun in-person and hybrid learning this month after a stint of distance learning before winter break, but the COVID-19 response of the community determines if students can stay in school.
As Minnesota sees a loosening of COVID-19 restrictions in bars, restaurants, and gyms, Education Minnesota urges community members to continue following health and safety guidelines.
With the 14-day case rate per 10,000 in any given Minnesota county impacting the learning model schools can safely implement during the pandemic, educators’ unions want to see a decline in COVID-19 cases so students can safely return to or stay in the classroom.
TCU Superintendent Lonnie Seifert said teachers tend to fall on a spectrum of how comfortable they feel returning to the classroom.
“Our goal is to have our teachers in the building and to provide them with an environment where they can feel secure and safe being on site,” Seifert said. “… We’re really trying to identify what are the barriers and how we can do things differently because these are unique times, so maybe we need to find unique [solutions] to make things work.”
John Head, president of the TCU Education Association, said while he feels the safety precautions in the building are sufficient, some staff who are medically fragile or nearing retirement are a bit more concerned about teaching in person. On a case by case basis, the district and the educators’ union figure out how to meet these teachers’ needs.
“There’s always going to be anxiety when working through issues related to COVID,” Head said. “I have meetings with staff weekly, as up to date as possible. The big thing we have comfort in is how little transmission has been through the schools. The real factor that it comes down to is community spread and how well people are wearing the masks in public places, but if the community isn’t taking those steps, the anxiety will obviously rise.”
Another factor that plays a role in keeping students in schools is the health of staff members. Finding substitute teachers to fill in for staff members who are out sick, either because of COVID-19 or another reason, has been a struggle for some districts during the pandemic.
Seifert said TCU has been “OK with subs” because staff in isolation have the option to teach remotely if they choose. In the hybrid model, he said specialists have also offered some of their services virtually.
Head said he urges the community to follow Gov. Walz’ precautions.
“I know there were parents really passionate about keeping kids in schools, so in order for TCU to really support the community as much as possible, they need to follow those guidelines,” Head said. “At least until we get to the point where vaccines are readily available.”
Added Seifert: “We request and ask that our families will support us. As long as we’re all working in that direction, maybe we don’t have to take a step back again this time.”