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.
Locally, guidelines recommend school districts in Goodhue County to implement in-person learning for all students, as opposed to instructing in-person learning for elementary students and hybrid for secondary students as seen in many of the surrounding counties. A county would need to report fewer than 9 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period in order for schools in that county to reopen with in-person classes.
In a post on Kenyon-Wanamingo School District’s website, Superintendent Bryan Boysen indicated staff are working diligently in formulating a plan for reopening.
“After listening to state leaders and reading the Minnesota Safe Learning Plan, we will put together a comprehensive plan in collaboration with Minnesota Department of Health,” Boysen wrote in the update. “As a parent myself I understand that it is unsettling not knowing yet what the plan will be.”
Boysen encouraged community members to continue to monitor the district website and Twitter account for further updates.
Added Boysen, “I thank you in advance for your patience and understanding during this unprecedented time.”
School districts are expected to use the two-week infection rate data from the Minnesota Department of Health to assess the risk of COVID-19 in schools. Based on how prevalent COVID-19 is in their areas, districts may choose to pursue in-person, distance learning or a hybrid of both. The current classification is based on county-level case rates per 10,000 residents as of July 30. These guidelines are subject to change.
Gov. Tim Walz 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.
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.
State Rep. Steve Drazkowski, who represents District 21B (Goodhue, Wabasha, Winona and Dodge counties) said, “This is an absolute disgrace. The governor’s plan allows for some students in Minnesota to receive quality, in-person instruction while other students are stuck in front of a computer screen. This plan does not benefit our kids. Instead, this plan creates education disparities across the state.”
Under the governor’s plan, if a county has more than 50 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents, then all schools in that county will be prohibited from offering any in-person classes. Instead, those schools will only offer online distance learning.
“Once again, Gov. Walz failed to get input from the people of Minnesota,” Drazkowski said. “The citizens of our state elected the Minnesota Legislature to represent their interests in state government. However, the governor has circumvented the interests of the people by totally ignoring state legislators. The lack of unity and absence of collaboration is why Minnesota schools are receiving these ridiculous mandates.”
Additionally, educators and students at schools that will be allowed to offer in-person classes will be required to wear masks.
“The schools of Wabasha, Mazeppa, and St. Charles should not be subject to the convoluted decision making of the governor,” Drazkowski said. “Every school district has local, elected leaders that should be making these decisions. The governor’s decision to insert himself into the educational choices of our children represents authoritarian leadership. The longer we allow Gov. Walz to unilaterally make decisions for the entire state without any checks and balances, the more we lose our liberties and freedoms.”
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.