Minnesota schools are closed until early May: Here are 9 things you need to know

People standing far apart from each other and people at tables.
Students keep social distance as they line up to pick up books, work and their belongings at North High School gym Monday. Schools have temporarily closed amid the COVID-19 outbreak to prepare for distance learning.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News

Many parents across the state are learning that it'll be another five weeks — at least — before they can send their kids back to school again.

On Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz ordered Minnesota schools to remain closed through May 4 as the state grapples with the COVID-19 outbreak. Here are the top nine things you need to know about schools’ plans:

1) How long will Minnesota schools be closed?

At this point, the governor has told schools to remain closed for the rest of April. School staff have been told to report back to work on May 1 to prepare for students to return to classes. Students would return to class on May 5.

But that is just the plan for the moment. Walz may extend school closures in the future.

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And of course, there’s the caveat that we’re in the middle of spring break season — some Minnesota schools are just coming out of or just going into or right in the middle of spring break. Districts are working around that as well.

2) How will kids keep learning if schools are closed?

Starting Monday, district and charter teachers will activate their “distance learning” plans — teaching their K-12 students who are at home, whether or not those children have access to the internet or a computer.

What distance learning actually looks like will vary widely by grade level, subject, school and teacher. It will also look different based on the resources families have and the resources schools have. For example, not every student has an internet connection or digital device at home. Not every student even has a stable home.

But educators have been thinking about any trauma families are currently experiencing. Many of them have spent time in recent days connecting with children by phone or email. They’re emphasizing connection over content, and trying to address their students’ social and emotional learning and their basic needs first. After that, a lot of teachers are focused on a streamlined “less is more” approach that won’t be too overwhelming for students and parents.

3) What is expected of parents while school is out?

Educators and state leaders are stressing that it’s not necessary to home-school your kids.

“We are not asking for parents and guardians to become teachers or educators of their students, of the content they would learn during the school day. That still is still the responsibility of the educators,” Heather Mueller, deputy education commissioner, said Thursday. “They have spent the last eight days — and their careers — preparing to do this work and to be able to ensure their students are continuing to learn.”

Districts are also planning to post their distance learning plans on their websites this week or by Monday at the latest.

4) What about school-based child care?

Schools are also still expected to provide child care to the children of health care and emergency personnel and keep feeding meals to students. This child care has been in place in schools since March 18, and it is available free of charge to parents who are health care workers or other “essential” personnel.

Many schools have utilized staff from their before- and after-school programs to run child care, and the Minnesota Department of Education is reporting that thousands of children are already in these programs.

Districts are providing child care for K-fifth grade students. Some districts with early childhood programs are providing child care for even younger pre-K students.

5) How can schools possibly implement distance learning in an equitable way?

Minnesota has some of the worst disparities in its education system in the country. It’s reasonable to continue seeing those play out here: How will distance learning work for students with special needs? Students with housing instability? English-language learners? Students whose families weren’t in a great economic place before this began? Will students of color be disproportionately impacted?

There’s some guidance on some of this from the Minnesota Department of Education, but there’s a lot more to report on here.

6) What about attendance and tests? Are schools still doing those?

Teachers are still supposed to be teaching to state standards and taking attendance. But that will all now look really different than it did before.

MPR News host Cathy Wurzer talks with education commissioner
by MPR News

The state Education Department is still expecting teachers to have regular contact with students. So, taking attendance might look like teachers just asking students a question and having them answer.

Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker has suggested attendance is now more about making sure that students have meaningful contact with their teachers versus being physically present in a building.

While some teachers may continue using tests as part of their education plans, Minnesota is not planning to administer statewide tests to students this year such as the MCAs. The state education department is instead applying for a federal waiver to be exempt from the accountability requirement for statewide testing.

7) What about college entrance exams? Are those still happening?

The ACT has rescheduled its April 4 national test date to June 13 across the United States. The SAT has also canceled some of its exams, and say they’ll provide additional future testing opportunities “as soon as possible.”

8) Are schools still feeding kids?

Yes, schools are finding ways to feed children. Some have organized pickup locations where their students can come grab a meal to take home and eat. Other schools have mobilized their bus drivers to deliver food to students who need it.

There are also new food distribution sites set up around the state. Locations can be found via a new app called “Free Meals for Kids.”

9) Do schools need help?

Schools have systems in place and partners and nonprofits they regularly work with to provide for the needs of their students.

Minneapolis Public Schools issued a statement Wednesday urging people not to bring them food donations.

Instead, some school districts are recommending people donate money to local food shelves or to nonprofits that specialize in feeding and caring for kids, such as The Sheridan Story, or Hunger Impact Partners or Second Harvest Heartland.

One looming concern for schools is how they’re going to pay for extra expenses, such as the staff needed to provide child care for the kids of emergency workers, or any new devices required for remote learning. And some of them have said they’re worried the Legislature later won’t authorize the money to pay for that.