After seven weeks of mostly distance learning, Minneapolis Public Schools may start bringing more students back to classrooms as early as next month.
In a presentation to the school board on Tuesday, district staff presented results from a recent parent survey and talked about transitioning to the next phase of its “Safe Learning” plan, which would provide struggling students with optional help from teachers at school. That transition could occur gradually during the second quarter of the academic year, which starts on Nov. 9.
Superintendent Ed Graff said he believes in-person learning is best for students, but the district is walking the line between health and safety and the challenges distance learning creates for students.
“I wish I could offer MPS families and staff a firm commitment of what will happen when, but the only certainty I can provide is that the health and safety will always be a top priority,” Graff said.
As a part of the transition into the new phase, school staff would identify students who could benefit from the on-site help. That group could include those with special needs, those who are learning English and those who are experiencing homelessness or not currently engaging through distance learning.
The district has already been offering similar supports to about 250 students across seven sites. The next phase would expand that and allow Community Education to provide youth and enrichment programs with proper social distancing.
Teachers would continue to offer their daily instruction through distance learning and the on-site assistance would be provided by staff who volunteer to work with students in person.
The district is continuing to plan for students to return to school buildings, which could come at the start of the third quarter in February, if it is safe to do so. Students would still have the option to continue in distance learning.
Greta Callahan, president of the Minneapolis teachers union, said the district has not reached out to the union to discuss moving into additional phases of hybrid learning, despite multiple calls for bargaining.
“We’ve been involved in zero part of planning for these phases,” she said. “We are the closest to our students along with their families and to be left in the dark is just not good for kids.”
This month, the district sent a survey to families asking them to indicate which learning model — full-time in-person, hybrid or full-time distance — they would prefer for their child. Less than one-third of the respondents preferred a return to full in-person learning.
“We’ve heard from many of our families and staff who feel very strongly about how MPS should operate during this pandemic,” Graff said, adding that he wants to “echo their passion” about balancing safety and learning.