Minnesota teachers express concerns 2 weeks before state's announcement of return-to-school plans

The week of July 27 the Minnesota Department of Education is expected to release their plan for the 2020-21 school year amid the Coronavirus pandemic.

Last month, the Department of Education strongly encouraged school districts to plan on one of three scenarios happening this fall: in-person learning, distance learning or a hybrid of the two.

Leaders at the Department of Education say they are working closely with the Minnesota Department of Health to come up with a plan that keeps kids, families and staff safe while also making sure kids continue learning.

A spokesperson for the Department of Education says they’re working on a plan that will be flexible for districts depending on how Coronavirus outbreaks are impacting their communities at any given time during the school year. That spokesperson also says districts will have the option to put more restrictions in place if they feel it’s necessary for their students and staff. However, districts will not be allowed to have restrictions that are looser than the state.

For many teachers, there’s a lot of anticipation for the Department of Education to release their plan so they can start preparing, something they didn’t get to do in March when Gov. Walz announced the closing of schools and the start of distance learning within a two or three week period.

“We take our job seriously, and it’s really hard to let go of anything when we feel responsible for everything,” Minneapolis Public School teacher Michael Templeton said.

Templeton says he sees teachers, parents and students running into issues with learning in whichever setting the Department of Education decides on. He says distance learning came with many challenges for students and families and without being able to connect with students in the classroom first, he fears a distance-only model to kick off the school year this fall would be even more challenging.

“We can start somewhere in the fall with some competency but it also had a psychological impact on kids. There was a lot of rebellion from kids to families that were prefect angels in school. If they had to hear that this is what we’re going to be doing again this year there’s going to be some challenges for parents and students and staff alike,” Templeton said.

He says he also sees great challenges with returning to the classroom while also practicing social distancing and wearing masks, something that could be required if classrooms are opened back up again.

“How to do that safely really is what has everyone spinning their wheels and not gaining any traction. Because every time we think of maybe this could work there’s another what about this what about this and a scenario that brings it all kind of crashing down again,” Templeton said.

For example, especially with younger elementary school students, trying to keep them separated from one another and keeping surfaces clean will distract from actual learning. He says as a second grade teacher, he’s also worried about how he would be able to teach some lessons, like reading pronunciation, with a mask on.

Education Minnesota, a teacher’s union that represents thousands of teachers in the state, put out this statement last week explaining their stance on returning to school. In that release, Education Minnesota President Denise Specht said:

We need to come together - parents, educators, scientists and policy makers - to find the right solutions for the students of Minnesota,” she said. “There will be some give-and-take, but there must also be a common understanding that the educator’s job is to educate and the health of students and educators should not be sacrificed to an economy rigged to benefit the richest 1 percent and the largest corporations.