5 steps Minnesota schools will take to determine their safe learning model

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced the Safe Learning Plan for the upcoming school year, which will take on a "localized, data-driven approach" that will allow school districts and charter schools to use a learning plan based on COVID-19 cases in their area.

There are three types of safe learning models: distance learning, in-person learning or a hybrid of the two. Five steps go into how schools will determine their safe learning model.

Step 1: Minnesota Department of Health determines base learning model through formula

To determine the base learning model, MDH officials will use a formula to determine the 14-day county case level rate per 10,000 people by the date a person was tested. Based on that number, MDH officials recommend a baseline learning model. Below are the Learning Model Parameters:

  • 0-9 cases per 10,000 over 14 days by county of residence - In-person learning for all students
  • 10-19 cases - In-person learning for elementary students; hybrid learning for secondary students
  • 20-29 cases - Hybrid learning for all students
  • 30-49 cases - Hybrid learning for elementary students; distance learning for secondary students
  • 50+ cases - Distance learning for all students

However, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm says more factors than just the learning model parameters can impact the decision for the learning model.  She says the parameters are used to start the conversation.

Step 2: Consult with health officials 

In some areas, a high county-level case rate may be attributed to a known, isolated outbreak that may not impact the school setting. In other places, a high amount of cases may show there is widespread community transmission. That's why school leaders will need to consult with area health officials when making their learning model decision.

On July 30, superintendents and charter leaders will receive an email from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) on how to schedule a consultation to support their learning model decision. Starting August 24, districts and charter schools will work with a Regional Support Team to support implementation and evaluation of their learning model.

Step 3: Evaluate health best practices

Schools must implement a set of requirements for their learning model. The following is required for in-person and hybrid learning:

  • Masking policy
  • PPE for direct support student services
  • Build routines of hygiene education and practices
  • Daily cleaning and frequent cleaning of high touch surfaces throughout the day
  • Building level COVID-19 program coordinator with optional student counterpart
  • Limiting nonessential visitors
  • Discontinue large gatherings/activities that don't allow for social distancing
  • Monitoring and excluding for illness

The following is also required for hybrid learning:

  • Social distancing of 6 feet at all times in school buildings
  • School facilities at 50% capacity
  • Transportation at 50% capacity
  • Sufficient staffing levels to meet the requirements of the model 

If a district or charter school is unable to implement the required practices, then they should implement distance learning for all students.

Step 4: Determine the learning model to start the school year

Once a review has been completed, districts and charter schools must determine the learning model to start the school year. The model must be reported to MDE before it goes into effect and the plan must be posted on the district or charter school's website. There also should be contingency plans posted.

All schools must offer a distance learning model to all families who choose not to attend in-person learning due to medical risks or other safety concerns.

Step 5: Monitor the community and school-level impact of COVID-19 on a regular basis

Once the initial selection of a learning model is made, the decision to shift to an alternative learning model should be dependent on the COVID-19 impact at a school level while also staying aware of the viral activity in the community.

As much planning and coordination goes into implementing a learning model, a decision to change to a different learning model should not be taken lightly.

If a school district or charter school decides to move to a more restrictive learning model, it must notify the education commissioner within 24 hours of starting the new learning model.

If the choice is made to move to a less restrictive model, the district or charter school must consult local public health officials, MDH and MDE.