St. Francis middle, high school students return ahead of Walz announcement

Students at St. Francis High School move through the hallways. The school returned to in-person learning on Feb. 16, 2021. (FOX 9)

Minnesota Governor Tim Walz laid out his reopening plan for middle and high schools on Wednesday, but one Twin Cities metro area school district didn't wait for that announcement.

St. Francis Area Schools decided it was best to have students who wanted to go return to the classroom be able to come back to school.

Wednesday marked the second day for "all in learning" at St. Francis High School.

"I was really excited and nervous at the same time because we haven’t been fully back in person," said Hailey Turner, a St. Francis High School senior.

"I work at a daycare, so all I get to see is my computer screen and little kids. So it’s nice to come back here and see people my age," said Abby Ferrario, a junior at St. Francis High School.

St. Francis Area Schools made the decision to go against what the Minnesota Department of Education was allowing and put students back in the classroom. Some of the push to do that came from the students themselves.

"We heard from them," said Beth Giese, the superintendent of the district. "They wrote letters they emailed the school board, they were really strong advocates for themselves in talking about how they were feeling being home."

The district also surveyed families and knew only about half of high school students would actually come back, as some prefer distance learning. The superintendent knew that would make social distancing a lot easier. She says good communication all around has been key to making it happen.

"I would say that without our staff and without our teachers this would not be possible," said Giese. "They are truly the most remarkable staff in the state of Minnesota."

For the most part, transitioning back to all in-person learning at the high school has been pretty simple.  But the superintendent admits, it’s not perfect. It is still a work in progress.

"Our high schoolers, it’s going to take a little more time in the hallways," said Giese. "We have to remind them constantly ya know, 'You gotta keep your three to six feet away.' We’re struggling a little more with hallway and lunch rooms."

Elementary and middle schoolers are also back in the classroom. Giese says the students tend to follow the rules without much push. 

While St. Francis is the only Twin Cities metro area district to be offer all in-person learning – 28% or 152 of Minnesota school districts are currently all in-person learning. With the governor’s new return to school plan announced, that will likely change.