Gov. Walz: In-Person Learning to Resume by March 8
Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday said he expects all Minnesota schools to resume in-person learning in some fashion by March 8 — a change that could have major ramifications for employers and working parents.
In a Wednesday afternoon press conference, the governor cited a decline in Covid-19 hospitalizations and deaths among his reasons for his push toward in-person learning. Vaccinations have helped, too; the governor’s office said that 25 percent of teachers have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.
“We know that the best learning happens when [students] are in classrooms,” Walz said.
The governor said the announcement is simply a “deliberate continuation of what we put in place in July,” when the state rolled out its “Safe Learning Plan” for schools. In December, the governor updated that plan to allow any elementary school to resume in-person learning if it followed mitigation protocols. That’s still the case following Wednesday’s announcement, though now middle schools and high schools will be able to welcome students again starting Feb. 22.
“Beginning February 22, 2021, middle school and high schools will be able to choose to begin operating a hybrid or in-person learning model if they are able to implement the additional mitigation strategies,” the governor’s updated learning plan reads. “As of February 17, 2021, districts and charter schools that are already operating in-person or hybrid learning or have publicly announced a plan to transition to in-person or hybrid learning, may continue with their plans.”
The governor is banking on rigorous Covid-19 testing to help control spread of the disease in schools. He’s encouraging students and staff to get tested for coronavirus every two weeks. Testing, Walz maintained, will be the best way to beat the virus, and any emerging variants.
“I think we should go back to pandemic control 101, which says test like mad and isolate,” Walz told reporters.
Minnesota Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, said the shift toward in-person learning has been a long time coming.
“It is long overdue,” said Sen. John Jasinski (R-Faribault) in a statement. “Unfortunately, Gov. Walz’s mismanagement of Covid and schools is a big reason that students are struggling. We have known for a long time now that schools can safely reopen.”
Jasinski went on to plug a piece of legislation that “would restore local school officials with the authority to determine their own reopening policies.”
Walz’s announcement came after the CDC on Feb. 12 updated guidelines on in-person learning and transmission rates in schools. Dan Huff, assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Health, said that the CDC’s new guidelines mirror the state’s learning plan. But Education Minnesota, a teachers union in the state, said resuming in-person learning may pose challenges for some school districts under the new federal guidelines.
“Every school district in Minnesota is unique and so are the families of our students,” said Denise Specht, the union’s president. “Regardless of today’s announcement, there will still be educators who need the vaccine before they can safely return to their buildings because of local conditions. There will also be families that won’t be comfortable returning to in-person learning next month. Meeting the needs of everyone won’t be easy and the solutions will look different everywhere.”