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Minneapolis teachers union questions return to in-person instruction

Elementary students are set to return to the classroom in February – nearly a year after they shifted to distance learning.

The Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals says more needs to be done to prepare the Minneapolis Public School District for in-person learning in February.

The teachers union held a news conference Tuesday, a day after many educators received letters about returning to work in-person, saying they want to be in schools teaching their students, but they have been left out of the reopening planning process. 

Minneapolis Public Schools students have been distance learning since March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But Gov. Tim Walz recently issued an executive order that allows all elementary schools to switch to in-person learning if a district chooses to do so.

On Jan. 8, Minneapolis Public Schools announced it planned to bring elementary school students (Pre-K through fifth-grade) back to the classroom in February, while students in grades 6-12 would remain distance learning until further notice.

The district's plan allows families to choose in-person or distance learning for their students by Jan. 22. The week of Feb. 8, students in Pre-K through second-grade would return to in-person learning. Then, the week of Feb. 22, students in grades 3-5 would return to school buildings. 

The Minneapolis Teachers Union is asking that Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graff and the district delay the reopening of schools until the union and district have agreed on additional safety measures suggested by the union. 

The union has also launched a petition, which has garnered more than 3,000 signatures. 

The union is asking that teachers are given the same option as families – to choose the option that's safest for them between distance and in-person teaching, Greta Callahan of the Minneapolis Teachers Union said during the news conference. Teachers should also have the option to get both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to in-person learning.  

"Every day we go above and beyond as educators. Now is the time for MPS to go above and beyond the most basic safety measures required by the state," Callahan said. 

The safety measures the union is seeking go above what the State of Minnesota requires in its Safe Learning Plan. Among the other measures: capping class sizes, mandatory weekly saliva testing, and additional personal protective equipment. 

The union is also asking for more resources "for a safe return that takes the whole child into account," Callahan said, noting the district must hire more social workers and counselors to provide more mental health support – something that was lacking before the pandemic. 

During the news conference, teachers also expressed concerns that parents may not understand their options, questioning the fact that if a family doesn't choose their preferred option, their child will automatically be enrolled in in-person learning. 

Other teachers' unions have pushed back against reopening plans. Education Minnesota – the state's teachers union – last week said it's worried the dial back of restrictions on bars, restaurants and other businesses could hinder school reopening

Meanwhile, teachers in the St. Paul School District, which has also been distance learning since March 2020, are asking the district to delay reopening plans. That district plans to bring elementary school students back starting Feb. 1, while also allowing students to continue with full-time distance learning. 

That union is holding a car rally Tuesday evening to call for the safe reopening of schools, saying the district's plan has more questions than answers. 

"It also comes at a time when community spread of COVID-19 is high, a more contagious strain has emerged and educators haven’t been vaccinated yet. This will make it difficult to staff schools when adults are sick or quarantining," the union said in a news release

Bring Me The News has reached out to the Minneapolis School District for comment. 

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