By Bill Hudson

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – In mid-March the COVID-19 pandemic sent Minnesota’s students home to complete their school year with distance learning.

 Now, parents like Michelle Forsberg wonder if they’re in for a repeat come fall.

“It will affect if I can go back to work when our office reopens in September,” Forsberg said.

Managing a job and her son’s schooling is hard enough. Imagine the difficulty in getting kids to socially distance once they return to school.

“Their ability to self-regulate, it’s one teacher and 26 kids, that’s hard and how do you keep them apart?” she said.

That’s just one of the COVID-19 concerns state education leaders are wrestling with. On Thursday, Deputy Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said the pandemic remains unpredictable. So the department is asking districts to remain flexible as they devise three methods for a safe return of schooling.

“We’re asking our districts to plan for three scenarios based on three possible needs. Full on face-to-face learning, a hybrid learning with social distancing and distance learning,” Mueller said.

Depending on a district’s unique COVID-19 situation, each one could possibly blend in all three approaches to help reduce overall populations of students and staff.

The hybrid model would require limits on students and staff to 50% capacity in buildings and busses.

In addition, six feet of social distancing would be the norm as well, and contactless distribution of school lunches when school is not in session.

“The return needs to be done safely,” said Education Minnesota President, Denise Specht.

Specht added that the ideas of parents and teachers must also be included in return planning.

“Educators like to be at the table when the decision is made around what reopening should look like. Whether it is a scenario being discussed today or something else,” she said.

Smaller class sizes, split scheduling, and greater sanitation and testing will all be essential to safe reopening.

“I want him to go back, but I don’t know how they’re going to manage it,” said Forsberg.

That return to schooling in September will remain unclear until a final decision is made in late July.

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