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Decision gives flexibility to schools; MSHSL to deliver options to board Aug. 4

Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Department of Education released what they are calling the Safe Learning Plan to be used by school districts to determine how they should open up this coming school year.

The plan takes into consideration the in-person, hybrid and distance learning models that the MDE urged schools to prepare for earlier this summer. However, it is not a blanket recommendation for all districts in the state of Minnesota, rather it takes into account specific situations unique to the school location in the state.

“Not all schools look the same,” Walz said. “This is a localized, data-driven approach for school districts where if it’s physically possible to teach our students, we’ll do that. County level data has to be coupled to the building.”

Austin Daily Herald graphic

This new formula, which pertains to both public and charter schools, breaks down to the number of cases per 10,000 people over 14 days by county of residence. For instance, the formula states at the low end that if the number of cases per 10,000 people is nine or fewer cases over those 14 days, then a complete opening is possible. Higher number counties can look at variations of partial reopenings.

This is potentially optimistic for the Austin Public Schools District to reopen in some capacity to on site learning in September because over recent weeks the community spread in Mower County has been relegated to single digits most days, but it also leaves uncertainty for the future of the school year.

“It really complicates the fact that we’re having to calculate that,” Austin Public Schools Superintendent David Krenz said, explaining that schools might be open one week and then closed the next depending on any possible spikes in cases. “Then I’m thinking of parents,” he added. “Are they going to need day care or won’t need it?”

“We have all the plans, the three we were told to prepare for, but how does that fit into the dynamics of the district?” he added.

At the same time, MDE Commissioner Jan Malcolm said that the Safe Learning Plan is not a begin all, end all type of situation.

“We’re starting the conversation with this framework,” she said. “It’s not a formula where if your number is here, your score is here, this is automatically what happens.”

Malcolm also said that the situation will be an ongoing process throughout the year.

“There will be ongoing evaluation and ongoing consultation,” she said.

Before the announcement the Minneapolis Public School district announced they will start the school year in a distance learning format.

Krenz said the next steps for APS will be for central administration to come together and then once they come up with a plan, the principals of the district will come together in order to figure out how to best implement the plan.

“Our preference, if it’s feasible and possible, would be to have our kids come back to the school, but we have to weigh that,” Krenz said. “As long as we can do it safely.”

However, state officials stressed during the press conference that the option for parents to continue distance learning will be available for them as well as for staff who opt not to teach at school and for schools to change the model if need be.

“Schools can make the decision to implement a more restrictive model if need be,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flannagan. “Teachers and staff must have the option to work remotely.”

How do schools determine their safe learning model? (Minnesota Department of Education)

• Step 1: Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) will use data from counties to determine a base learning model for public schools.

• Step 2: Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) will share county data and the consultative process for public schools to engage with education and public health experts to review their county health data and safe learning plans

• Step 3: Public schools, with their incident command team, will evaluate their ability to implement required and recommended health best practices.

• Step 4: Public schools, in consultation with public health, will determine a learning model to begin the school year and communicate that decision with their school community.

• Step: 5 Public schools and MDH will monitor the community and school-level impact of COVID-19 on a regular basis. Adjustments will be made to the learning model if needed.

Sports season still to be decided

With the announcement of the Safe Learning Plan, the Minnesota State High School League has announced that league’s Return to Participation Task Force will recommend a path forward to the Board of Directors on Aug. 4.

According to a press released issued Thursday, the task force will present options on a return to participation for school sports.

The group’s work has used the following Guiding Principles in exploring options in a return to participation:

• Prioritize the health and safety for all to the greatest extent possible.

• Align return to participation options with the requirements and recommendations of state organizations and agencies focused on safety and return to learn models.

• Provide an opportunity for education-based participation in each sport and activity .

• Demonstrate equity and fairness in preparation of programming options.

• Acknowledge financial implications.

• Apply guidelines consistently.

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