Middle and high schoolers in Minneapolis and St. Paul are set to return to school buildings in mid-April, but classes won't be back to normal just yet.

Students in both districts will attend school in person four days a week, with the fifth day set aside for distance learning, teacher planning and student-teacher meetings.

In Minneapolis, teachers will be expected to teach both in-person and remote students simultaneously. In St. Paul, a shortened school day will allow teachers to focus on their in-classroom students for four hours and then shift to distance learners for the remainder of the day.

Those options will allow students to continue working with the same teacher they worked with during distance learning over the last few months, district leaders said.

Minneapolis schools initially hoped to bring older students back five days a week, but revised that plan based on information from the state about how much time teachers needed to plan lessons.

Three of the district's schools — Anthony Middle School, Washburn High School and Justice Page Middle School — will have students return on a rotating schedule that gives each group two days of in-person learning. Those schools can't otherwise accommodate 3 feet of social distancing for the high percentage of students who wanted to return, said Associate Superintendent LaShawn Ray.

Secondary teachers in Minneapolis will have the option to use videoconferencing to broadcast their in-person lessons to students working remotely. Earlier this month, the school board approved spending just under $1 million on more than 1,300 devices to make that happen.

"Without being able to have teachers teach simultaneously, it would've been pretty difficult to pull off bringing students back," Ray said. At a recent board meeting, Superintendent Ed Graff said that teachers with work-from-home accommodations may be asked to virtually teach kids who are seated in a classroom in addition to those in distance learning. Schools, he said, will have to provide the space and technology to make that possible.

In St. Paul, about 31% of secondary students have chosen to remain in distance learning. School leaders have spent the last couple of weeks planning how to structure classrooms and other spaces to ensure 3 feet of social distancing.

Overall, the district has tried to prioritize continuity for students and flexibility for teachers, said Assistant Superintendent Josh Delich.

"We've worked to find a design to support the uniqueness of teachers' creativity, while at the same time, providing a common structure for our students and staff," he said. While many parents asked about the reasoning behind the shortened day, he said it was the best way to address the challenges of scheduling and staffing for secondary students.

"When you start really unpacking the logistics, I'm confident in our rationale," he said.

Mara Klecker • 612-673-4440