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Our Opinion: Help state decide how to plan for school in fall

The Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday released guidance for schools across the state to consider in preparation for the 2020-21 school year.

Though they have not yet identified how they plan to proceed in the fall, the departments told school district leaders across the state to prepare for three possible scenarios, which essentially span the gamut of options:

• In-person learning for all students. Under this scenario, schools would be asked to create as much space between students and teachers as is feasible during the day but would not be held strictly to enforcing 6-foot social distancing guidelines during primary instruction time in the classroom.

The Department of Education stated this scenario could be implemented if state COVID-19 metrics continue to stabilize or improve.

• Hybrid learning with strict social distancing and capacity limits. Under this scenario, schools would limit the overall number of people in the school buildings and on buses to 50% maximum occupancy. Social distancing of at least 6 feet would be required at all times, and schools would have to come up with plans for contactless pickup or delivery of meals and school materials for the days that students and staff are not in the building. This scenario would be implemented if  metrics worsen on the local, regional or statewide levels and could also be implemented within a school if there are clusters of cases.

• Distance learning only.

Through this scenario, students would have daily interaction with their teacher, but the Department of Education noted it does not always have to be through e-learning or online learning.

This scenario would be put in place if metrics worsen significantly enough to require the suspension of in-person learning. Schools would have to supply materials for students to continue their learning.

The departments said it is possible they’ll start with one plan but have to switch to another, depending on the spread of COVID-19 in the fall, and that districts could end up using all three scenarios.

There are many issues that have to be taken into consideration, including not only the health and safety of students and staff, but also how to best support students in their learning. In addition are concerns about parents who must work to support their families, students who may not have support for their schooling at home and the increased day care costs parents have to pay if their children are unable to return to school, among others.

We encourage parents to take the Department of Education’s fall planning survey about their distance learning experiences as the state considers how to move forward. The survey can be found at http://sgiz.mobi/s3/2020-Parent-Distance-Learning-Feedback-Survey through the Department of Education’s website.

The state is expected to decide which scenario it will move forward with for the upcoming school year by July 27.