Minneapolis

Walz: ‘It’s time for students to be back’

2021-02-17 11:35:54 –

All Minnesota middle and high schools can opt to bring students back for hybrid or in-person learning as soon as Feb. 22, Gov. Tim Walz announced Wednesday.

In a news release, the governor said he expects that all schools to offer some form of in-person learning by March 8.

“It’s time for students to be back in the classroom,” Walz said. “We aren’t out of the woods, but our relentless progress with vaccines and Minnesotans’ vigilance has put us closer than ever to the end of this pandemic.”

The governor will detail the new plans for schools in a live address at noon. The changes follow the release of new recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control, which outline considerations for schools as they make reopening decisions, including metrics based on how widely COVID-19 is circulating in local communities.

Minnesota began the school year with its own set of school reopening guidelines based largely around county virus data, but has since moved away from county COVID-19 reports as the deciding factor in whether or not schools should open. In January, the state pivoted to get young students back in classrooms, allowing all elementary schools to reopen for in-person instruction, provided they could meet a list of updated safety recommendations.

A majority of the state’s elementary schools — most of which had previously been in full distance learning — have since reopened for in person or hybrid instruction. Less than 5% of districts and charters were in distance learning for elementary school last week, according to the Minnesota Department of Education.

The return to in-person learning has been slower for middle and high schools, where officials have had greater concerns about virus transmission because students move between classes and interact with more students and teachers during the school day.

Decisions about those grade levels are currently subject to the state’s original guidelines, although many districts across the state, including those in areas with higher spread of the virus, have allowed older students to be in classrooms for hybrid or full, in-person instruction. About a quarter of districts statewide have high schools in full distance learning, with the rest providing some form of in-person instruction.

State officials have viewed the reopening of elementary schools as a success, highlighting new safety measures like twice monthly COVID-19 testing available to all school staff members and low transmission rates of the virus within school buildings. Minnesota is among the states that have prioritized vaccinating teachers and school staff, a process that started in early February.

“Our progress means we can get more students safely back into classrooms,” Walz said. “As a parent and former teacher, I know how critical this step is for the economic security, well-being, and mental health of our kids and their families.”

Erin Golden • 612-673-4790

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