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MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday ordered Minnesota schools to stay closed through the rest of the academic year amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Walz, who is a former teacher, calls it “a heartbreaking decision.” The Democratic governor says he feels sorry for all the students who will miss out on graduations, tournaments and end of year celebrations. But Walz says the health and safety of Minnesotans is his top priority, so distance learning will continue through the end of this school year.

“While I recognize distance learning is a challenge for many families, it is critical to social distancing in Minnesota and supports the health of Minnesota’s families. We will continue looking for ways to improve the current system and better support our children,” Walz said in a statement.

The governor closed public and charter schools just over a month ago and directed them to switch to distance learning, affecting nearly 900,000 students and their families. His order had been due to expire next Thursday, but he had said in recent days that he was likely to extend the shutdown through the rest of the school year.

“Distance learning has created new challenges for all of us, but especially students of color, Native Americans, students in Greater Minnesota, students with disabilities, and low-income families, among others,” Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan said. “Students are missing their friends and routines, and families are struggling to work while helping their young learners. We can and must do more to ensure that every child is receiving the education they deserve and we will always put the safety and well-being of our families first.”

Minnesota’s death toll from COVID-19 hit 200 on Thursday, the state health department reported. Twenty-one new deaths were reported, the highest one-day death toll from the pandemic, passing the previous daily high of 19 reported Wednesday. The department also reported 221 new confirmed cases, another one-day high, raising Minnesota’s total to 2,942.

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