Gov. Tim Walz announced Sunday that Minnesota public and charter schools will temporarily close beginning Wednesday. Here's what you need to know about the order.
When will schools close?
The order takes effect Wednesday, March 18, though some districts are closing sooner. St. Paul Public Schools are suspending in-person learning beginning Monday. Minneapolis Public Schools will be open Monday but closed Tuesday. The order lasts eight days, through Friday, March 27.
Why are schools closing?
Administrators and educators need to "make long-term plans for the continuity of education and essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic." They'll be looking into distance learning options and methods for ensuring children who rely on free and reduced lunch get enough to eat. "Our schools are places where large numbers of Minnesotans congregate," Walz's executive order states. "They therefore need time to plan strategies for achieving educational goals while also complying with public health guidance."
Why allow some schools to wait until Wednesday?
Officials said the delay is meant to provide flexibility for schools and parents, given the short notice. "Some kids need to get back into school on Monday to get things that they need," Walz said.
What about tribal and private schools?
The governor's order applies to charter and public schools. The administration is strongly encouraging tribal and private schools to follow suit.
Could closures be extended?
It's possible. Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said state officials will re-evaluate the plan after the eight-day period. One of the goals of the temporary closure is to give educators and administrators time to plan for what comes next. "We are not accommodating for a couple snow days, we are planning for the potential for weeks of distance learning," Ricker said.
Are there any exceptions?
Yes. The executive order requires schools to provide on-site care for children age 12 or younger of health care professionals, first responders and other emergency workers during previously planned school days.
Will child care options be available for everyone else?
The governor has asked state agencies to work to help child care providers in the state handle an anticipated increase in demand. The executive order directs the Department of Human Services to submit a proposal by Friday addressing strategies for supporting child care providers and ensuring continuity of care. The administration is also urging legislators to take action, including emergency assistance for struggling families and paid leave for workers who do not receive sick time through their job.
Will teachers and other school employees be paid during this break and if school closures are extended?
Paying staff during the break is strongly encouraged, Ricker said. School employees are expected to work during the temporary closures and use the time to plan. The commissioner said the administration expects that districts continue to pay staff, including bus drivers and hourly workers, and that those employees are "incorporated into our state's distance learning plans." Bus drivers, for example, could be involved in delivering lunches or school materials, she said.
Where can I get answers to other questions or concerns?
The state has opened a hotline for school and child care questions: 651-297-1304.
Torey Van Oot and Briana Bierschbach