Schools across Minnesota grapple with pandemic concerns as fall draws near

As fall draws near, residents and school administrators in both rural and urban Minnesota are grappling with concerns over the pandemic.

Melissa Jones, a Minneapolis parent, said she fully supports the school district’s decision to start the academic year with distance learning. Jones explained that both she and her daughter battled COVID-19 through the spring, and now worry about the health risks of returning kids to the classroom too soon.

"I know everybody in school does their very best, but I just can’t see how they could keep up with cleaning, how they’d keep people safely away from each other," said Jones. "So, I think even with the best of intentions, I just don’t feel they’ll be prepared to do it safely."

On Tuesday evening, Minneapolis Superintendent Ed Graff unveiled some of the specifics of distance learning in a virtual, community-wide PowerPoint presentation, promising a better and more supportive experience for students and their families after complaints mounted in the spring.

The superintendent also defended the decision not to implement a hybrid model off the bat, explaining the city’s infection rates vary widely across its diverse racial and ethnic communities. The goal remains moving to in-person instruction at some point during the year.

“Our plan is to regularly monitor the conditions, but will likely move between phases,” said Graff.

From the state’s most urban district all the way up to Esko in northern Minnesota, administrators and school boards are closely watching their community’s COVID-19 numbers to decide what to do in the fall.

There are no easy answers, even in Carlton County where the population is about 36,000 and the infection rate at last check was 5.06 per 10,000 residents.

"The governor’s model is recommending in-person learning for all students, so they would be back obviously with enhanced safety protocols because we want to be very cognizant of always trying to stop and prohibit the movement of COVID-19 amongst community and staff," said Aaron Fischer, the Esko School District Superintendent.