MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) —  The third legislative session of the year has begun at the Capitol, and one topic Minnesota lawmakers discussed Wednesday morning was how students will safely start the school year.

In a virtual hearing, the Minnesota Department of Education officials laid out their plans to a committee of lawmakers. Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said that all districts must have a plan for distance learning, in-person learning and hybrid learning.

Several groups voiced concerns during the hearing. The National Alliance on Mental Illness said that children who are currently feeling isolated might need more mental health services.

Lawmakers had a list of questions, including wanting to know how parents who have kids with special needs can better prepare for distance learning.

“You consult with the IEP team that includes parents and teachers about the specific needs in according to the model that school district is using,” Daron Korte, Asst. Commissioner at MN Dept. of Education said. “Certainly parents have the opportunity to request an IEP team meeting and in some cases may be to pull that IEP team together when making decisions about changing services.”

And for the students who will be back in class — the Department of Education says all teachers will have clear face shields so students can read their expressions. And, they will be working on improving ventilation systems.

As far as going back to school, the Department of Education says it’s going to prioritize schools that have students who are young and students with greater needs.

“If you’re absent for one day of two days this is the first point of outreach we are going to make — you’re absent a third day, we may have an educator come out for a home visit cause we really are worried about the engagement of our students,” Heather Mueller said.

Another issue the Department of Education is working on now is a new system to assess students on day one — to see if there were gaps in learning and how to proceed.

Also, the Minnesota Department of Education is applying for $256 million in CRF funds for operating costs, PPE supplies for schools, and funding for COVID rapid testing for school staff.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield