MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Tuesday marks the first day of school for thousands of Minnesota kids, including Anoka-Hennepin, the largest school district in the state. More than 30,000 students are returning to the classroom there, for the first time in over a year.

Meanwhile, when students arrive this morning at Coon Rapids High School, they’ll be greeted by this brand new entrance that was renovated over the summer, as well as signage on the doors telling students and staff that masks are recommended, but not required.

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That is the protocol for students in seventh grade and up. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade will be required to wear masks, as well as their teachers and staff. That’s in part because those younger students under 12 don’t have the option to get vaccinated.

WCCO spoke with Superintendent David Law who says they will frequently monitor the virus spread, and adapt when needed.

“We get a weekly update across our system of how many students at each site tested positive, so we can monitor that each week. What we saw last spring, for the low number of students that tested positive, and the high number that quarantined, that data suggested that the spread wasn’t as common,” Law said. “If we have data in our schools after the first week that says, ‘Hey, this is really obvious; it’s spreading within our school system,’ then we will revisit our mask policy.”

The superintendent says last week when he met with teachers and staff in the auditorium, the majority were wearing masks. He believes that will be the case in the classroom too.

Two school years in a row have faced some sort of COVID impact, switching from distance learning to hybrid and back.

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Law says connection and communication with the students will be a priority. He says they will meet with students more frequently to hear their concerns, questions and suggestions. They have improved virtual learning this year for the families who chose to continue distance learning. There will be no recorded lessons.

Certain teachers have been assigned and solely dedicated to teaching online this year. Those classes will be live and the school day will mirror the in-person school day to keep students focused and to provide consistency and connection for virtual learning students.

Ultimately, the superintendent says staff and teachers all plan to have more patience with any learning gaps that happened because of distance learning.

“How are our kids terms of content knowledge? How comfortable are they? … Our students told us that they learned much more in person than they did virtually, so we’re going to have to acknowledge that as we work through the trimester and through the year,” Law said. “There are going to be some parts of our lessons that aren’t strong spots for kids because they might not have had it in the transition or distance learning, and so we’re going to have to spend a little more time on it.”

This morning, students in Chaska are also heading back to school. Their district has a mask mandate for kids 12 and under. One parent WCCO talked with says she isn’t sure that rule is best for younger students, but her daughter will follow it.

The CDC recommends indoor masks for all students and staff to stop the spread of the Delta variant.

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While many schools start Tuesday, Minneapolis begins tomorrow. St. Paul will delay its start until Thursday to celebrate Rosh Hashanah.

Marielle Mohs