MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Minneapolis Public Schools have announced that elementary-age students will be returning to in-person learning in February.

Superintendent Ed Graff said Friday that his recommendation to the Board of Education was to offer elementary families the option to remain in distance learning or to return to in-person five days a week.

The plan will be for students in second grade and younger to return to classrooms Feb. 8, to be followed by students in third, fourth and fifth grade to return two weeks later — on Feb. 22.

“Many of our youngest learners are suffering in distance learning. Not just academically, but socially and emotionally as well. And there are long-term consequences for them should they not have an opportunity to choose an in-person learning option. The longer some students remain in distance learning, the more difficult it will be for them to ever catch up and regain the almost one full year of learning that they have lost,” Graff said.

Secondary students will remain in distance learning for the time being.

“We did not come to this decision lightly and it is not set in stone. If things take a turn for the worse, we will reassess,” Graff said. “Ultimately, we know that while it’s good to learn from the experiences of others we have to do what we think is best for our families and our staff.”

Many Minnesota school districts are preparing to reopen their elementary school buildings beginning on Jan. 18. As this date approaches, Education Minnesota is asking the governor to closely monitor infection data and, if need be, dial back restrictions to protect students and staff from the virus.