Most districts offering some in-person learning, but many not ready to offer full time for all students

With coronavirus cases continuing to fall, and vaccine efforts gaining speed, Governor Tim Walz says it's time to get more middle and high school students back into classrooms, leaving some districts scrambling to adjust.

Under the governor's updated plan, all secondary students could return to hybrid or in-person learning as early as Monday, if safety protocols are in place. Walz expects all schools to offer some form of in-person learning by March 8.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, about 16 percent of districts in the state are offering distance-only learning for students. Many districts have started welcoming back all K-12 students for in-person learning at least a few days a week.

This week, one of the state’s largest districts, Anoka-Hennepin, welcomed middle and high school students back to in-person learning two days a week. This means half of their students are in person two days, and the other half are in-person the other two days, to avoid crowding in classrooms and common areas like the cafeteria. Elementary students in the district are in class five days a week.

Anoka-Hennepin’s Superintendent, David Law, says they would need more planning before they would be ready to welcome all of their students back full time. He says crowding on buses, classrooms, and cafeterias is a major factor.

"Even our smallest middle school might have 250 kids [in the cafeteria] at once," he said. "So that is one of the things that people will need to reconcile and know about before they make a decision to come back to school full time," Superintendent Law said. 

He says a change to full-time in-person probably wouldn’t come until after the governor’s recommended date of March 8. Law says Anoka-Hennepin’s second trimester ends four days after that, then students go on Spring Break. He says after they return, they could witch to in-person, full-time, but they’ll need more information from parents on how many students could be returning before they set a date.

"We have some parents who say I’ve been keeping my kid home because the every other day stuff is too disruptive but if they can be in more we’re going to sign up," Law said. "We’ll have parents that when they hear everyone is going to be in the classroom, they’re going change their mind and go to distance learning when the transition happens."

Minneapolis and St. Paul public schools are two of the few districts that have not brought middle and high school students back for in-person learning.

St. Paul’s superintendent says they plan on slowly welcoming back older learners starting on Monday. In a statement Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard said:

"The updated guidelines announced today are consistent with the safety measures and health monitoring that are already in place in our SPPS schools, and we are moving forward to begin returning our older students on Feb. 22. We are working diligently to increase the number of middle and high school students who we can serve in person.

Factors to consider as we grow our in-person model include classroom capacity, social distancing guidelines, and transportation issues. As a large, urban and diverse school district, SPPS will continue to place the health and safety of everyone involved as our highest priority."

Minneapolis Public Schools have not laid out a date for older students to return to the classroom. In a statement their superintendent, Ed Graff, laid out what their planning will look like over the next few weeks:

• Expanding building readiness walk-throughs, cleaning, and assessments in our middle and high schools
• Outlining as many details as possible about the next steps in bringing our secondary students back, beginning with Phase 3 in-person academic support as soon as March
• Sending out registration forms—just as we did for elementary families—asking secondary families whether their intent is to return to in-person classes or to stay in distance learning
• Communicating with staff about returning to in-person learning
• Continuing to update FAQs to help families make informed decisions
• Hosting discussions with parents, staff, and community partners