GOP lawmakers want Minnesota school districts to make call on whether to reopen for fall

The decision on whether or not to reopen schools for fall classes should be made by local school districts and not Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Republican lawmakers argued on Friday.

Representatives Ron Kresha of Little Falls and Sondra Erickson of Princeton said Friday they plan to introduce legislation during a special session next week that would put the power in the hands of local districts when deciding to reopen.

Earlier this year, as the state came to grips with the coronavirus pandemic, Governor Walz, following the lead of several other states, made the call to end in-person instruction for the remainder of the school year.

Schools moved to online learning to finish out the semester but faced problems getting it off the ground.

"I believe the Walz administration has fumbled this," said Rep. Kresha. "Their thumb too heavily on the scale, they need to trust local officials."

The bill ensures that it is local school boards and superintendents making the call on a return to the classroom and not a blanket policy coming from Saint Paul, based on statewide COVID-19 statistics and trends.

"For the Walz administration to believe they have the only access to data is, frankly, wrong," said Kresha. "Our locals know their local infection rates and local geography best."

The governor has said a final decision on back-to-school is coming in the next couple weeks with districts preparing for one of three potential models: A full in-person experience, a straight distance-learning curriculum, and the potential for some type of hybrid model.

The GOP lawmakers position is that this decision should not be one size fits all, saying that what might work in the heart of the metro may not be in the best interest 150 plus miles away, up in Wadena.

"It’s completely different for our small and medium-sized schools in rural Minnesota," agreed Lee Westrum with Wadena-Deer Creek Schools.

Westrum said he fully anticipates having to use all three of the governor's suggested educational models during the upcoming school year.

But in a county that has only had 16 total coronavirus cases thus far and no deaths, Superintendent Westrum believes the ultimate decision for what’s best for the students of Wadena-Deer Creek should be left up to him and his school board.

"The situations across the state are very different," said Westrum. "And I always side on letting local school districts make up their minds when it comes to decisions like this."