Minneapolis students likely to start year remotely

A woman on her computer.
A substitute teacher works from her home due to the coronavirus outbreak on April 1, in Arlington, Va. Minneapolis Public School officials plan to resume full-time remote learning this fall, though they’ll wait for the governor’s announcement Thursday to finalize the plan.
Olivier Douliery | AFP via Getty Images file

Updated: 2:59 p.m.

Minneapolis Public School officials plan to resume full-time remote learning this fall, though they’ll wait for the governor’s announcement Thursday to finalize the plan.

District officials announced the decision at a board meeting Tuesday, saying that given the challenges that the pandemic and a hybrid mix of in-person learning and distance learning pose, it’s best for students to go back to school in September online.

The decision comes ahead of a statewide announcement that Gov. Tim Walz is expected to make Thursday.

But some board members wanted to codify their own plan ahead of the statewide announcement.

Create a More Connected Minnesota

MPR News is your trusted resource for the news you need. With your support, MPR News brings accessible, courageous journalism and authentic conversation to everyone - free of paywalls and barriers. Your gift makes a difference.

Three out of 9 board members voted for a resolution that would require the superintendent to make a recommendation to either continue distance learning or implement a new model by Nov. 15, citing current concerns regarding the pandemic.

“I just feel uncomfortable with the thought that we’re going to roll the dice,” said Board Member Ira Jourdain. “We can have safeguards all day long, but at the end of the day even if one child gets sick, one staff member gets sick, that’s one too many.” 

The majority of the board voted against the resolution, however, saying that they want to wait for the governor’s guidance Thursday. They also said the superintendent has already made a recommendation to start the year with distance learning.

“It’s very tempting to feel like we need to take control of the situation because there has been some failed leadership at the federal level,” said board member Jenny Arneson. “We need the governor and the Department of Education to offer us some guidance.”

Students were forced to abruptly stay home during statewide stay at home orders last spring, and schools quickly switched to remote learning. Minneapolis school officials say they have a plan in place to improve students’ experiences as they return to remote learning this fall.

“We heard from multiple stakeholders that when there wasn’t a predictable structure or a schedule, it was really hard for families to plan, it was hard for students to know when they should be online,” said Aimee Fearing, the chief of academics for Minneapolis Public Schools. “It was also hard for teachers to plan out their day as many of them during the spring had their own children in the home.”

The district surveyed 12,000 families earlier this month to gather thoughts on returning to school and distance learning. District officials say 74 percent of participants were white, which is not reflective of the district’s demographics.

But Eric Moore, senior accountability, research and equity officer, said when he looked at the responses from African American and Indigenous families, 38 percent of Black families prefer full return to distance learning and 45 percent of American Indian families prefer distance learning as well.

Overall, more families said they’d like a hybrid model that combines in-person learning with distance learning.

Moore said the survey also revealed families’ concerns about remote learning last spring.

“The overall theme is just the inconsistency of distance learning and how we approached our work,” Moore said, noting that a large number of people prefer a full return to in-person learning. 

The district is planning a multi-phase approach. Officials say they plan to implement a 100 percent remote learning model through the first quarter, which ends in October and they would eventually end with in-person learning. The timing will depend on how the COVID-19 pandemic evolves.

The school board plans to discuss this issue again in August. Board members have asked district staff to gather more feedback from families and for more information on added support for students receiving special education services and English Language Learners.

Editor’s note (July 29, 2020): This story has been updated to clarify that the district’s decision is contingent on guidance from the state on re-opening school buildings.