Judge rules district can't force Minneapolis teachers to return to in-person classes

A judge has ruled that Minneapolis Public Schools can't require teachers to return to class if they have requested accommodations to work from home.

Some teachers were set to return to school on Monday for the first time since March, when the pandemic sent students and teachers to work from home.

According to the district's plan, elementary staff are set to return this week. Pre-K through second graders would start the following week and third through fifth graders would return on February 22. Grades 6 through 12 are set to remain in distance learning programs.

However, many teachers say they don't feel safe teaching in-person in the midst of the pandemic. Saturday, a county judge ruled in favor of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Union, which said the school district has kept teachers in the dark on reopening plans.

"We have been asking to be involved in the process for what a safe return to in-person learning looks like and we’ve been completely shutout," said Minneapolis Federation of Teachers President Greta Callahan.

"We’ve been asking for some additional safety measures," added Callahan. "We want CDC guidelines to be followed and they’re not and we haven’t been able to negotiate anything."

Callahan says the other issue is a breach of contract because teachers are being reassigned to different classrooms.

"MPS is well aware of the contract language because they agreed to it and didn’t build in time for that process to happen which is breaking the contract. which is breaking the law," she explained.

Callahan hopes this temporary decision from the court will give teachers and the school district time to come to an agreement.

"But I wish they didn’t have to be forced by a court order to do the right thing for our students and staff," said Callahan.

In a statement, Minneapolis Public Schools wrote:

"We were heartened to hear the judge confirm that she wants in-person learning to continue. Elementary school staff is coming back for a week of preparation beginning tomorrow, Feb. 1, and the first students return on Monday, Feb. 8.
"We have said all along that it is our responsibility to continue planning for in-person learning so that when the time is right, we are able to act. Returning a large district to in-person learning is a complex, multifaceted effort and we will continue with our plans until and unless directed to do otherwise. We have made that commitment to our families and students.
"We are confident in our decision to return to in-person learning, as is our state-mandated Regional COVID Support Team, because MPS has taken all the steps and more that health experts have recommended to prioritize the health and safety of our staff and students. 
"We are going to continue working to provide the 8,000 Minneapolis families who requested it the same opportunity to return to the classroom available to many other students across the state."