Teachers hold car rally to call for delay to in-person learning

Teachers and community members held a car rally at the St. Paul Public Schools district office, pushing for a delay to in-person learning amid the pandemic.

Both St. Paul and Minneapolis school districts are making plans for elementary students to return to the classroom, but there is some concern they are moving too fast.

In the parking lot of the district headquarters for St. Paul Public Schools, a different kind of demonstration was held on four wheels Tuesday night.

"I kept describing to people," said Brian Hodge-Rice, a third grade teacher. "It's like a drive-in movie, but a rally for our schools."

A couple hundred teachers, parents and community members showed up for a car rally to ask the district to delay a return to in-person learning until teachers get vaccinated, community transmission rates go down and the district can clearly communicate safety plans to families.

Currently, SPPS is planning for students 2nd grade and younger to return on Feb. 1, with 3rd through 5th graders heading back two weeks later.

"We could hold off," said Nick Faber of St. Paul Federation of Educators. "We could do this safely and be much more effective in our classrooms with our students and keep our students and community much safer if we could wait."

Across the river in Minneapolis, Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff presented his plan for students PreK through 2nd grade to go back to in-person learning on Feb. 8 with 3rd through 5th graders heading back on Feb. 22.

"Many of our youngest learners are suffering and we know there are long-term consequences for them if they don't have the option of returning to class," said Graff.

District officials say safety protocols will be in place to keep both students and staff safe, like requiring face coverings, social distancing and limiting student movement, but some teachers say it's not enough.

"Everyone wants to know -- is it 100 percent safe? No, it’s not, but I can tell you with 100 percent certainty that many of our students are worse off without the option to be back in the classroom," said Graff.

The Minneapolis teachers' union has launched a petition asking city leaders to come up with a better plan to reopen schools safely. The Minneapolis school board will hold a special meeting next Tuesday where members will vote on the superintendent's recommendation.