Some Schools Refuse to Close Despite Virus Because It’s Better for Kids

The majority of Minnesota public schools have closed their doors to guard against the surge in coronavirus cases. But the Mankato Free Press found that some educators in Greater Minnesota refuse to go along with the conventional wisdom that has led most school districts to rely heavily on virtual learning for K-12 students at home.

They view cutting youngsters off from socializing with their peers and interacting face-to-face with their teachers as a threat to students’ development and well-being that could have long-term detrimental consequences.

A handful of area school districts are still welcoming students through their doors while coronavirus cases surge.

Their leaders say COVID-19 is not being transmitted within their schools, and they have enough healthy staff to keep at least some of their students in their buildings at least part time.

At least for now.

“If the data showed that distance learning was significantly safer for our students, I would close our schools immediately. But the data doesn’t support that,” Maple River Supt. Dan Anderson said.

“The data actually shows that many kids’ mental health is adversely affected by distance learning, as is their academic progress. The data says that kids do better when they are in-person, interacting with teachers and staff every day.”

The state currently leaves it up to local districts to call the shots on how to best to balance the classroom and coronavirus. Most fall in line by offering mainly remote learning online with limited in-person instruction. But a handful of districts continue to go against the grain.

District superintendents say that reduced class sizes, masks and other precautions put in place this fall are effective. There are few or no known instances of the virus being transmitted during the school day.

“Now that we are well into the school year and do not see transmission of the virus happening at schools, we can make a much better decision with our data that considers what is actually happening in schools,” Blue Earth Area Schools Supt. Mandy Fletcher said.

Parents generally have the option of their child being taught at home. But many worry about their children falling behind and want their kids back in school.

Superintendents say they haven’t been receiving many such requests and some families who started the year at home have opted to return to school.

“For families who are worried about COVID, the choice for distance learning may be appropriate,” Anderson said. “But the overwhelming majority of parents are asking us to stay in school as long as possible.”

It’s all part of the learning curve that administrators, teachers and parents have been on during the pandemic. But some educators seem to have learned more than others.