More MN middle, high schools reopen as new state guidance takes effect

Middle and high schools were open in most of Minnesota’s largest school districts on Monday, the day new state guidance went into effect urging a return to the classroom.

Of the state’s 30 largest districts, 18 had schools open for some or all of their secondary students, according to a Pioneer Press review of learning plans posted online.

Two additional districts have announced plans to reopen by March 8, the date Gov. Tim Walz has said he “expects” all schools to be open to some degree.

And eight more districts now in distance learning plan to open later on in March or April.

That leaves only Minneapolis and St. Paul, which have yet to announce plans for in-person instruction for middle and high school students.

St. Paul on Monday began offering those students 2.5 hours a week of “in-person support,” which includes a meal and on-site help with school work but no new instruction.

The St. Paul school board will hear a report Tuesday on the district’s next steps.

CHANGE IN PLANS

Walz announced the new guidance on Wednesday, allowing all schools to open this week without limits on capacity, as long as they take coronavirus precautions, including wearing face masks and social distancing.

The announcement sparked quick action in several districts.

Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan was able to bring grades 6-12 back Monday on a part-time schedule rather than forcing seniors to wait two more weeks.

Bloomington, which had planned to reopen secondary schools at partial capacity on March 11, instead will bring students back full-time.

1 BACK FULL-TIME

Of the 30 largest districts, only Elk River has its middle and high school students learning in-person every day.

They were granted permission in late January to make that move on Feb. 16, even though Sherburne County’s new coronavirus case rate was 36 per 10,000 residents. The state’s original guidelines suggested secondary schools shouldn’t return to a regular schedule unless county case rates fell below 10.

The state’s new guidance says schools no longer have to watch county case rates. Instead, they can reopen anytime and may need to return to distance learning only if 5 percent of students and staff are out sick.

Several districts, including Minnetonka, St. Cloud and Duluth, plan to fully reopen middle and high schools next month, but not quite by Walz’s March 8 target.

NOT ENOUGH ROOM

Others are taking it slow.

Superintendent Theresa Battle said Burnsville-Savage-Eagan will move from distance learning to a hybrid schedule March 1 but there isn’t enough room in schools to allow for 6 feet of social distancing at full capacity.

“I believe at this time, moving to hybrid is still the best choice for our schools and students,” she told families.

Edina is gradually shifting from hybrid to in-person learning by March 22 so that more teachers get the chance to be vaccinated.

“While we are excited about declining case numbers and the ramp up of vaccines for educators, our regional partners at Bloomington Public Health are advising us to take a cautious approach and to watch how COVID-19 variants impact case rates in our state and local community,” the district said.

Becca Most contributed to this report.


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