St. Paul elementary students back in the classroom, teachers’ union pushes back

Elementary students in St. Paul were back in their classrooms yesterday (Monday) for the first time in nearly 11 months, reports the Pioneer Press.

Since March 9, the last day most St. Paul students were in school, the district’s youngest learners have lost four days of instruction to a teacher strike and had 15 more days canceled so that teachers could prepare — first for the transition to distance learning, and now back to in-person instruction.

The return of K-2 students will be followed by third through fifth-graders in two weeks, the Pioneer Press continues. But for middle and high schoolers, they will remain in distance learning, “although limited in-school support could start soon if county case rates drop a little further.” Midway through the first quarter this past fall, the number of failing grades among high school students doubled during distance learning. By the end of the first quarter, high schoolers failed 34 percent of their classes and middle schoolers 29 percent. Even before COVID, students struggled in the St. Paul district. According to 2019 data, the most recent available, 53 percent of 10th graders were not proficient in reading. Nearly 73 percent (72.9 percent) of 11th graders were not proficient in math. Among elementary students, 64.2 percent of third graders were not reading at grade level in 2019 and nearly 60 percent were not performing at grade level in math. The average months of learning lost for a student who resumed in-person instruction in January is estimated to still be seven months.

But despite growing research that makes the case for schools reopening — and growing evidence of the social, emotional, and academic toll distance learning has on children — the St. Paul teachers’ union “raised numerous concerns” about bringing students back into classrooms, according to the Pioneer Press“express[ing] no confidence in the district’s health and safety plan” that complies with state guidelines and includes “extra precautions.” Last August, the St. Paul teachers’ union joined a “National Day of Resistance” over school reopenings, citing “demands” such as “no reopening until the scientific data supports it” and “safe conditions,” including cleaning, testing and other protocols.

It appears the goalposts on “safe” keep moving.