MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Gov. Tim Walz announced Thursday that each local school district will have the authority to make a decision on which school-learning model to implement for the 2020-21 school year, with guidance from health officials.
School districts and charter schools have the option to operate in one of three models: in-person, distance learning, or a hybrid of the two. Department of Health and Education experts will partner with local districts and charter schools to help determine the model which suits them best.
“With this approach, we are pairing the knowledge and data from our Departments of Health and Education with the expertise of our local school districts to make the best decisions for our students across the state,” said Walz, who was a teacher for 20 years.
As the school year continues, the state departments will help districts decide if they need to dial back their approach; when switching learning models, the plan prioritizes keeping younger children in the classroom.
However, Walz also requires districts and charter schools to offer a distance-learning option for families who choose to keep their children at home. Teachers and school staff are also allowed to work remotely, if possible.
“While some are eager to be back in the classroom, others have very real concerns about health and safety. That’s why the Safe Learning Plan sets the guidelines for how safely a school can reopen, based on regional data and the expertise of public health leaders and local administrators, while still allowing families, teachers, and staff to make the decision to stay home,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan.
In March, Walz ordered all Minnesota public schools to close and transition to distance learning. When the summer began in June, public schools started to develop contingency plans for the 2020-21 school year.
Walz had originally provided $180 million from federal funds to help districts improve distance learning over the summer months. On Thursday, he announced an additional $250 million in federal funding to help provide face coverings for every student and staff member and additional cleaning supplies. The money will also help with family and educator support for tutoring, translation services, and mental health.
While in-person schooling drastically increases the chance for COVID-19 transmission, distance learning could strain parents who are working from home and children who do not have access to reliable services and meals.
According to a survey of over 13,000 K-12 teachers in Minnesota, educators have also expressed their concerns about both in-person learning and distance learning.