Gov. Tim Walz has signaled he is leaning toward a hybrid learning model to reopen schools this fall, alternating in-school sessions and distance learning. This hybrid approach is one option, but there is no one-size-fits-all approach that will work for every school in Minnesota. We have recommended to the governor and the education commissioner that each school district be allowed to create their own back-to-school plan that fits their students, families and community.
We have heard stories of schools unable to convert traditional curriculum to an online or distance learning system. While distance learning is an opportunity for innovation in education, we need to acknowledge that education still relies on interpersonal relationships. Students come from varied backgrounds with unique challenges. With distance learning, there have been cases where gains in reading and math have dropped below 50%.
The lack of broadband, especially in our rural areas, remains a challenge with a hybrid model. The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) does not limit distance learning to online learning, but practical realities do. To pretend distance learning can be effective in areas of the state unserved by broadband is unrealistic.
Even a well-organized hybrid model will be chaotic and disruptive for students and family, unless the system is designed by all education partners, including parents. Nontraditional systems including online learning or home schooling work best when those are the options chosen by parents in the best interests of their children. They are less successful when mandated from St. Paul.
What we have learned since the governor closed schools is that a top-down approach with MDE issuing vague guidelines did not work. Mission statements and platitudes look good on paper, but often lack practical application for local officials trying to lead a school through an unprecedented set of circumstances.
In certain situations, based on local public health conditions, distance learning or a hybrid model might be the most appropriate options. These determinations, however, should remain with local school leaders involving input from the community.
Our schools should be preparing for students to return to campus this fall as they are currently scheduled on the calendar. When appropriate, schools can pivot to alternative approaches. Waiting until late July for a decision prolongs uncertainty and puts schools and parents in an impossible situation.
Gov. Walz is too far removed from our local school districts to create an effective policy that fits each school district. Our local school officials are in the best position to bring students back safely. They know best how to reach their students, and we need to trust their decisions and be prepared to help when situations arise.
Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, and Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, are members of the Minnesota House.