(FOX 9) - State health and education officials released guidance Thursday to help K-12 schools in Minnesota plan for the 2020-21 academic year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Minnesota Department of Education leaders discussed the guidance on the Minnesota Department of Health's daily COVID-19 conference call.
Students and teachers have been participating in distance learning since mid-March, when Gov. Tim Walz closed schools to slow the spread of COVID-19. Schools remained closed for the remainder of the academic school year. For summer school, public health guidance allowed schools to employ a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning.
The guidance released Thursday includes a strong recommendation that school districts and charter schools create three different contingency plans for three possible scenarios for start of the school year this fall.
“It is possible that next year, just like we saw this year, that schools may need to shift their educational delivery models mid-year based on what is best for public health and the health and safety of our students, their families and our school staff," Minnesota Department of Education Deputy Director Heather Mueller said.
Officials have not made a decision on which model of educational delivery—in-person, hybrid model or distance learning—they will go with for the 2020-21 school year.
“We know that schools and families are anxious to know which scenario we will be in this fall and we just don’t know yet," Mueller said.
They expect to make and announce a decision by the week of July 27.
In-person learning for all students
Schools are urged to create as much space between students and teachers as is feasible during the day, but will not be held strictly to enforcing 6 feet of social distancing during primary instructional time in the classroom. This scenario may be implemented if state COVID-19 metrics continue to stabilize and/or improve.
Hybrid model with strict social distancing and capacity limits
Schools must limit the overall number of people in school facilities and on transportation vehicles to 50% maximum occupancy. Sufficient social distancing with at least 6 feet between people must occur at all times. If distancing cannot be achieved in a space or on a transportation vehicle, the number of occupants must be reduced. Schools must also include plans for contactless pick-up and/or delivery of meals and school materials for days that students and staff are not in the school building, as well as implementation of a school-age care program for critical workers.
This scenario may be implemented if COVID-19 metrics worsen at the local, regional, or statewide level. It may also be implemented within a school if they experience clusters of cases within a classroom or the school
Distance learning only
Students will participate in distance learning, which includes e-learning and online learning as well as other methods. MDE expects that students who participate in distance learning have full access to appropriate educational materials.
Schools are urged to prioritize continuing to provide critical services such as food services to support the health and safety of students.
This scenario may be implemented if local, regional, or statewide COVID-19 metrics worsen significantly enough to require the suspension of in-person learning.
COVID-19 PROGRAM COORDINATOR
Under both the in-person learning and hybrid models, schools would be required to appoint a COVID-19 coordinator who will serve as a point of contact for staff, students and their families, school and district leadership and local health officials for anything related to COVID-19 preventative activities.
Officials are also recommending that for older students, schools create a student counterpart to the COVID-19 coordinator.