In-school, online or both? State urges districts to prep for it all this fall

Bottles of cleaning supplies it in the window of a school bus.
Cleaning supplies sit on the dashboards of school buses in North St. Paul on March 18, 2020.
Evan Frost | MPR News file

Updated 6:04 p.m.

State health and education officials on Thursday released guidance to help Minnesota’s public schools plan for the coming school year. But the future track of the coronavirus outbreak will dictate what happens this fall.

On Thursday morning, the Education Department posted its planning guide and said it’s strongly recommending school districts and charter schools create three distinct contingency plans for each of three possible scenarios for start of the school year this fall.

It’s possible they’ll start the year with one scenario and then ask all schools, or some schools to switch to a different scenario part way through the academic year, depending on how widespread the coronavirus becomes in the fall.

Those scenarios are:

1) All children return to school buildings and in-person classes.

2) No children return to school buildings for in-person classes. Instead, all students will engage in distance learning.

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3) Employ a hybrid of these two options with both in-person classes and distance learning.

State officials have said they will not release details about what form the upcoming academic year will take until the week of July 27.

“We want to make a decision as close to the time as possible — but still allowing time to plan,” Education Department Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller said.

Republican leaders Thursday urged the Education Department to stay out of this decision-making and leave it to local district boards and superintendents. They said it was impractical for districts to wait until late July.

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.”

“We don't need one agency in St. Paul to decide for an entire state how best to proceed,” Kresha said.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, called it a “non-announcement,” saying “this direction is as clear as mud, and the inability to make a decision will hamper learning for students in the fall.”

Minnesota schools have been closed amid the coronavirus pandemic since mid-March and switched to distance learning for the rest of the school year. Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order in May, allowing K-12 schools to open their doors to students for a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning this summer.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

COVID-19 in Minnesota