Districts across Minnesota have begun to announce their reopening plans for the new school year, with many opting for a “hybrid” blend of in-person instruction and distance learning.
In the Twin Cities metro area and beyond, several of the state’s largest districts, including Anoka-Hennepin, Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan, Osseo, Mounds View and St. Cloud, intend to start the year in a hybrid format — provided they don’t see a local spike in COVID-19 cases over the next few weeks.
Two large districts, Minneapolis and St. Paul, plan to keep students at home and begin the year with distance learning, while a few metro districts are delaying a decision until closer to the Sept. 8 start date for most public schools.
Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent David Law said districts are getting a flood of feedback and questions from parents with a wide range of opinions on when districts should make reopening decisions and whether they should reopen at all. He said his district’s decision to quickly follow Gov. Tim Walz’s July 30 school reopening announcement with an announcement of its own was meant to help families scrambling to plan for the year.
“Our parents, we assumed, would want to have as much lead time as possible to get ready for the school year,” he said.
Districts and charter schools have some flexibility in making reopening decisions, provided that local case counts of the virus remain beneath particular thresholds and that guidelines for cleaning, health screenings and physical distancing can be effectively met in school buildings. As a result, districts in the same county may opt for different approaches — as is the case with Minneapolis and Anoka-Hennepin.
Law said he’s keeping a close watch on county data and that the decision to start in a hybrid model was based around a projection of how prevalent the virus is likely to be in the area in early September. If cases begin to spike more quickly, it’s possible the district would have to shift to a model with younger students receiving hybrid instruction and secondary students staying home — or the entire district starting the year with distance learning.
In the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan district, spokesman Tony Taschner said officials took a similar approach to making their decisions and releasing plans. The district plans to bring students back for two days a week, grouped into two cohorts.
“The way we’re looking at it, everything is based on distance learning; you get time in school based on [virus] conditions,” he said.
All districts are also designing distance learning programs that will be an option for all students, whether or not schools open fully or for part-time instruction. Districts with plans to reopen in some form have been surveying parents to figure out how many students will come back and how many will remain at home.
Rochester Public Schools plans to bring elementary students back two days a week for hybrid instruction. Most middle and high school students will be at home all week for distance learning, though there will be some opportunities for older students to make appointments to get in-person help with technology, tutoring or mental health services.
Most students in the St. Cloud school district will get two days of in-person instruction and three online. Kindergartners, first- and second-graders, some special education students and those learning English will get four days of classroom instruction.