Many students no-shows for start of extended school year in Minneapolis

Walking out of Washburn High School at the end of this first day of the two-week extension to the school year, junior Naomi Noble noted she’d yet to experience a "normal" year of high school.

"My freshman year we left during March. My sophomore school year I wasn’t here. And then this school year we had strikes and COVID and everything."

The nearly three-week-long teachers strike in March is why Minneapolis Public Schools added an additional two weeks to the calendar, which began Monday, to make up for lost time.  Extra minutes were added to school days beginning in April.

But this two-week extension, much like past school years, is anything but normal as well. Some of Naomi’s classes didn’t have a lot of students still in them.

"It was really crazy, I think one of my classes I had about five or so and the next one I had like 12…it was just really empty."

Because of conflicts, be it summer camps or family vacations or summer jobs, Minneapolis schools allowed families to opt their students out of the extended year, essentially excusing absences, provided the students met their academic requirements.  This is handled on a school-by-school basis.

Greta Callahan, the president of the Minneapolis teachers union, did an informal survey of her members on Monday, and many reported back that over 25% of their students were absent.

And now comes the heat.

Beginning Tuesday, 14 schools that don’t have adequate air conditioning are moving to distance learning.   Among them, Field Elementary, where Nelson Inz was picking up his 4th grader, George.

Inz is also a school board member, and called his tenure "more challenging than I ever would have imagined being on the school board this year."

He said that the district’s ability to pivot quickly to learning online is one positive result of the pandemic experience because attending class in these buildings without air conditioning is not an option.

"Kids can access some kind of learning through the distance learning process that 3 or 4 years ago they wouldn’t be able to do," he noted.

There are also a large number of staff missing school, as well. Callahan, the teacher’s union president, said that the district told her that over 600 staff were absent.  But she denied there is any kind of organized "sick-out" being staged by teachers to protest the extended year.  She said these absences have been consistent since before the regular year ended.

As for Naomi Noble, the Washburn junior, she hopes to meet her academic requirements yet this week and be excused for next week.  And hopes even more that her senior year may finally be "normal"

"I just want like COVID cases to be gone, just like finish it out normal, like how you see in movies and stuff I guess!"