By Caroline Cummings

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Republicans at the Minnesota State Capitol seek to strip Gov. Tim Walz of his executive authority over school openings and activities during the pandemic in their latest proposal to limit his emergency powers.

One of Walz’s orders forces schools to follow the state’s “safe learning plan” benchmarks. Districts can change their plans, but they have to work within the state’s guidelines and get approval — except for elementary schools, which as of mid-January can offer in-person learning without prior approval so long as they follow mitigation strategies.

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“When the governor starts to playing with the dials, he takes all of those options off the table,” said Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, during a news conference on Thursday. “We need to start listening.”

Proposals from legislative Republicans would take away control from the governor and the state and as a result, give local school boards the exclusive authority over decision making. It’s part of a broader effort to curtail those emergency powers, which have drawn the ire of GOP lawmakers for months.

Supporters of the bill charge that the current school requirements trample on a school district’s ability to make decisions in the best interest of the students they serve.

“We at the local level have a pulse on our community values and we represent these communities in our decision making,” said Stillwater School Board member Tina Riehle. “I do not know what the best decisions for Minneapolis Public Schools are, but I have a good idea of what works in Stillwater.”

House GOP members Thursday afternoon tried and failed to suspend procedural rules and take up the bill — which they just introduced Thursday morning — to debate it immediately.

Democrats criticized the effort to skirt the chamber’s procedures and the proposal overall. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler pointed out his children are already in school at least some parts of the week.

“This isn’t an urgency because it’s already happening,” Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said. “This isn’t a question of local control because local school districts are making decisions everyday about which students should be in school and when.”

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Changes could be coming to state guidelines after new CDC recommendations, Walz says

The heated discussion about school openings comes as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is soon expected to release updated guidance for learning.

CBS News reports that the plan will advise K-12 schools it is safe to reopen if they implement recommended mitigation practices.

The chief of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently said data supports safe reopening even without vaccinating all teachers first.

“There is increasing data to suggest that schools can safely reopen and that safe reopening does not suggest that teachers need to be vaccinated,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said last week, adding it is “not a prerequisite” for teachers to first be vaccinated.

Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday said 60% of Minnesota students in kindergarten through fifth grade are in the classroom and another 20% are in a hybrid model. Walz and the Department of Education allow elementary schools to offer in-person learning without consulting the state first.

Middle and high school schools still have to use the state process for determining learning modelsm, though Gov. Tim Walz signaled changes could be imminent pending the CDC’s new guidance.

“What we’re waiting for from CDC is how do we start moving back our middle schoolers—like mine who can’t get out of my house soon enough — and the high schoolers,” Walz told reporters Tuesday.

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The House GOP proposal to curb Walz’s powers mirrors a similar bill in the Senate. Neither can pass without support from the DFL, which controls the House.

Caroline Cummings