Governor Tim Walz announced Wednesday that all Minnesota schools can resume in-person learning for all grades starting this Monday.
The governor also said he expects all schools to offer some form of in-person tuition by Mar. 8, but said this isn't a mandate and that districts can continue with distance learning if they choose.
It marks a shift in approach from the state as COVID-19 cases continue to drop, and the state's Safe Learning Plan has been adapted with numerous new guidelines.
Here are five aspects of the new guidance that stand out in the 32-page document.
1. Testing regularly: Students and families that are learning in-person or hybrid are strongly encouraged to get a COVID-19 test every two weeks.
2. Social distancing: Early childhood and elementary are encouraged to maintain at least 3 feet of social distancing; middle and high school students should aim for 6 feet of social distancing during the school day.
3. When no social distancing is OK: While social distancing is always encouraged, if county-level data shows fewer than 10 cases per 10,000 residents, schools are not required to meet a minimum social distancing guideline.
4. Lunchroom seating assignments: Middle and high schools must create a seating arrangement for students at lunch to ensure better contact tracing in the event of a student testing positive.
5. When to transition to back to distance/hybrid learning: If 5% of a school's students or staff are sent home with influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms in a single week, a school is advised to reach out to its regional support team to consider a move back to distance learning.
Walz noted that if any of the new variants cause a significant spike in new cases of COVID-19 in Minnesota, then there's a possibility that keeping kids in schools may be difficult. But for now, the situation calls for kids returning to classrooms, he said.
"We're not out of the woods yet," Walz said," but I think we're in a position to make this move that mitigates the risk to as close to zero as we can get it."
There are efforts underway to get as many educators and school staff vaccinated as soon as possible, with the state providing 18,000 doses a week specifically for educators, an increase on what was previously available.
Walz said he expects the "bulk" of educators will have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine by Mar. 8. As of now, almost a quarter of teachers have been vaccinated.