Governor Walz Announces Return-to-School Plan for Middle, High School Students
Governor Announces School Reopening Plan for Middle, High School Students
“It’s time for students to be back in the classroom.” Those words came from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz on Wednesday as he announced a plan for all middle and high school students to return to school.
Some middle and high school students in the northwest suburbs have already returned to in-person classes in some form. The Anoka-Hennepin School District started bringing back students in grades seven, eight and 10-12 on Tuesday. Ninth-grade students in the Anoka-Hennepin schools returned to school buildings on Feb. 9. The district implemented a hybrid model for those grade levels.
The Osseo School District, meanwhile, transitioned to a hybrid model for middle and high school students on Wednesday.
Under the governor’s plan, all districts must offer some form of in-person learning by March 8. The transition comes as the state continues COVID-19 vaccination efforts for teachers and staff.
“We aren’t out of the woods, but our relentless progress with vaccines and Minnesotans’ vigilance has put us closer than ever to the end of this pandemic,” Walz said in a statement to CCX News. “Our progress means we can get more students safely back into classrooms. As a parent and former teacher, I know how critical this step is for the economic security, well-being, and mental health of our kids and their families.”
Case Rates Mirror Last Summer
The return to in-person learning has been slower for middle and high schools compared to elementary schools. That’s because health officials have had greater concerns about virus transmission due to older students moving between classes and interacting more with students and teachers during the day.
But Walz said sacrifices by residents and businesses have helped make the transition to in-person learning possible. The state’s 7-day case positivity rate has trended downward in recent weeks, now currently at 3.7%, the lowest since June 25.
According to state health officials, the percentage of residents who abide by the state’s masking mandate is approaching 90%. Hospital bed use has also returned to a level not seen since before the fall surge in COVID-19 cases.
“I feel very happy and comfortable with how we’re mitigating the risk,” said Dan Huff, assistant commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Health.
Huff emphasized that the state is already doing much of the school reopening guidance released last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaccination Efforts for Teachers
As case rates have fallen, Minnesota is on the verge of receiving roughly 100,000 vaccine doses a week. Teachers will have access to more than 18,000 doses next week. Still more vaccine is needed as concern remains about the spread of variants of the novel coronavirus. The number of cases detected in Minnesota of B.1.1.7, the variant first discovered in the United Kingdom, has reached 40. State health officials say that evidence suggests this variant spreads more easily and could produce illness that is more severe.
Education officials say more than 25% of Minnesota educators and child care workers have been vaccinated. Walz said he expects the bulk of educators to get first doses of vaccine by March 8. Minnesota also offers free testing every two weeks to teachers.
‘No Hard and Fast Rule’
State leaders, meanwhile, encourage students who return to school to get tested. Distance learning will also be maintained for families who choose that option.
According to Heather Mueller, deputy commissioner at the Minnesota Department of Education, districts should think about a learning model change if 5% of students and staff are impacted by COVID-19 within a single week. Mueller says it’s possible schools may vary on learning models within districts and even among grade levels. “There’s no hard and fast rule,” Mueller said.
State leaders emphasize that much effort and thinking went into Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan, with Walz, a father of an eighth grader, and Lt. Governor Peggy Flanagan noting that they too have children resuming in-person learning.
“It has changed everything for my family,” said Flanagan, a mother of a second-grade student. “The smile on her face and the energy she brought back home with her I have to say made it all worth it.”