MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday that each local school district will have the authority to make a decision on which school-learning model to implement for the 2020-21 school year, with guidance from health officials.
School districts and charter schools have the option to operate in one of three models: in-person, distance learning, or a hybrid of the two. Department of Health and Education experts will partner with local districts and charter schools to help determine the model which suits them best.
At the core of Walz’s plan for Minnesotans is a matrix that will be the starting point for all schools. If, in the last 14 days, there are between zero to nine cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 county residents, a district is able to implement an in-person model. If there are 10-19 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 people, in-person learning is allowed for elementary students, with hybrid learning for secondary students. As the number of cases rise per 10,000 residents rises, schools are able to change their model to more restrictive measures.
Districts where students come from more than one county will utilize the numbers form the county with the highest totals, so Anoka for instance would be beholden to Hennepin County’s figures.
Walz said these numbers are a starting point; districts will work with the Department of Health to decide the best course of action. Schools can also decide to implement a more restrictive model if they choose to do so.
Walz also said that equitable distance learning options must be available for families with concerns about sending their child back to school. Teachers and staff must also have the option to work remotely.
On Thursday afternoon, the Department of Health posted the 14-day count per 10,000 residents for each county in Minnesota.
For the Anoka-Hennepin school districts, for example, Hennepin County has 20.93 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 residents, meaning if school opened on Thursday, districts could go in to a hybrid learning scenario.
Currently, 181 districts would meet the baseline for all in-person learning. Only nine districts would have to keep all children at home. The remainder would consider a mix of options.
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Walz stressed that while these figures are mandates for each district, the district will also have to meet other guidelines like social distancing before holding in-person classes.
As the school year continues, the state departments will help districts decide if they need to dial back their approach based on the number of people in the county have been diagnosed with COVID-19.
In March, Walz ordered all Minnesota public schools to close and transition to distance learning. When the summer began in June, public schools started to develop contingency plans for the 2020-21 school year.
Walz had originally provided $180 million from federal funds to help districts improve distance learning over the summer months. On Thursday, he announced an additional $250 million in federal funding to help provide face coverings for every student and staff member and additional cleaning supplies. The money will also help with family and educator support for tutoring, translation services, and mental health.
Republicans, however, disapprove of Walz’s plan. Republican party Chair Jennifer Cranahan said Walz should let people in the communities decide what is best for them.