Walz: All middle, high schools can begin at least some in-person learning starting Monday

Beginning Monday, February 22, 2021, middle and high schools can bring students back into classrooms for hybrid or in-person learning with mitigation strategies implemented, Governor Tim Walz announced today. Many of these older students haven’t stepped foot in school for months. But others were already scheduled to return to classrooms in the next several weeks before the announcement was made.

Gov. Walz also said he expects all schools in the state to offer students “some form of in-person learning by March 8.” Families uncomfortable with their children returning to school will still be offered a distance learning option.

Elementary schools were given the go-ahead to reopen for in-person instruction starting January 18, paired with a rolling start. Starting on February 22, “a rolling start is no longer required for any schools — elementary, middle, or high school — to safely transition to an in-person or hybrid learning model. Schools may choose to remove the rolling start portion of their plan and implement a hybrid or in-person learning model for all grades at the same time.”

Secondary schools looking to transition either to a hybrid or in-person learning model were given mitigation strategies to implement into their reopening plans, including maintaining six feet of physical distancing among students or a minimum of three feet if six feet is not possible. Documenting lunchroom seating to support contact tracing in the event of an exposure is also a requirement. School leaders have been directed to “strongly recommend” to their students and families who choose a hybrid or in-person learning model to receive a COVID-19 test every two weeks. As with the elementary school safety protocols, secondary teachers and school staff are “strongly recommended” to wear face masks and face shields together.

If around 5 percent of the total number of students and staff in a school are out sick or sent home with flu or coronavirus symptoms in a week’s time, the updated school guidance suggests that school should consider scaling back its in-person learning model (either hybrid or full-time in-person) but does not require the school to return to distance learning.

Around 25 percent of school staff have been vaccinated as of today (Wednesday), according to the Star Tribune. The director of of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that schools can reopen safely even if teachers are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education’s Safe Learning Model Dashboard, 29 percent of K-12 district and charter schools are operating in-person, 10 percent hybrid, 14 percent distance learning, and 47 percent some combination of the three.