Minneapolis and St. Paul elementary schools start reopening next week. Here's what to know

As elementary schools begin to reopen, here's a quick guide for families
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While many schools are still in the process of determining when to return to in-person learning, schools have had the option to bring their youngest learners back since Jan. 18.

Many school districts have already started the process, and others are just about to begin - such as St. Paul Public Schools, which welcomes back pre-K through 2nd Graders on Monday and 3rd-5th Graders Feb. 15, and Minneapolis Public Schools, which plans to bring pre-K and Kindergartners back beginning Feb. 8, 1st and 2nd Graders on Feb. 10, and 3rd-5th Graders on Feb. 22.

If you’re preparing to send your child back, here's what to know:

Students will be required to wear face masks

Schools will be introducing distance markers to keep three feet between students and six feet between students and adults. 

Students will be required to wear face masks at all times except when eating or drinking. Per the Sahan Journal, both districts have been installing plexiglass barriers and improving air filtration systems.

MDH encouraging testing for students

While schools are not requiring it, the Minnesota Department of Health has recommended that parents help their children get tested for the coronavirus before bringing them back to the school buildings. MDH is also recommending that students continue to get tested on a biweekly or monthly basis.

This guidance applies to all students, but MDH is especially urging for the testing of students 12 and older, as well as students participating in in-person extracurricular activities.

The new guidance marks an expansion of who previously was encouraged to get tested, and comes at a time when the state has more capacity for testing, especially with the addition of saliva tests.

“Testing remains one of the most powerful tools we have to stop the spread of COVID-19,” MDH Assistant Commissioner David Huff said in a statement. “We’ve worked tremendously hard and Minnesotans have made a lot of sacrifices to get students back to their classrooms, sports, and extracurricular activities. Active testing by children, college and trade school students, and those who regularly engage with folks outside of their household—like our teachers—will protect our progress and mitigate the spread of the virus.”

Where can I have my children tested?

The MDH website has all the information you need regarding testing options and locations. It might be easiest to bring children to a community testing site, which offer saliva tests. Saliva tests can also be taken from home.

What about teachers?

School districts are now required to offer biweekly testing, though staff aren’t required to participate.

Staff are also being offered face shields, which aren't required but are "strongly recommended." 

Staff who have, or live with someone who has, a higher risk for COVID-19 complications, can request to work from home and the district must allow them to do so “to the extent possible,” according to the state’s Safe Learning Plan.

Minnesota is currently in the process of vaccinating teachers. Some teachers' unions, including those in Minneapolis and St. Paul, have pushed districts to not reopen until this process is complete. 

There is currently a 5-day vaccination drive ongoing at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, with more than 8,000 shots available for Twin Cities school employees, though there were problems with the sign-up process that saw some school districts get the jump on others. You can read more about that here.

What if I'm still deciding? 

Check with your district to see what the deadlines are for making a decision and what options they have for changing your mind later. The CDC has created a checklist for families to gauge their potential exposure and risks, as well as their educational and child care needs. 

What's more, schools must still offer distance learning for families that don't want their children to return to in-person learning during the pandemic, with these students placed in a virtual classroom.

The Sahan Journal notes that schools will try to keep students with the same teachers they had before the latest shutdowns, but it'll depend on student preferences, registration numbers, and teacher availability.

What do we know about how children contract and spread the coronavirus?

Data indicates that kids over 10 spread the virus more easily than younger children, especially if the spread is already high, Dr. Michael Osterholm said on his Dec. 10 podcast.

At the same time, studies have shown that younger children spread it at a lower rate than adults, and are much less likely to have severe symptoms, he said.

“I’ve come to the conclusion that I think five- to nine-year-olds can clearly be in a classroom right now with the appropriate prevention practices in place,” Osterholm said in December.

However, this was before the introduction of more transmissable variants of the virus, such as the U.K. variant known as B.1.1.7, which is believed to be 50% more transmissable and has been confirmed in Minnesota.

Osterholm has said this week that the introduction of more contagious variants could see cases spike once again, and suggests that the situation could worsen significantly between now and March, potentially impacting in-person learning.

This week, Bloomington Public Schools announced it was moving back to distance learning temporarily after an outbreak of COVID that affects its transportation services. Children in early childhood to 2nd Grade had been back in classrooms for just over a week.

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