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Minnesota releases guidance for schools ahead of fall restart

They're being told to plan for 3 possible scenarios depending on the severity of COVID-19.

The Minnesota departments of education and health have released guidance for the 2020-21 school year, with much still uncertain amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Department of Education has previously said it's considering 3 different scenarios: a full return to classroom teaching; a hybrid model of classroom/distance learning; and full distance learning.

On Thursday, it recommended school districts prepare for all three of these scenarios, with a full decision expected on how the state will proceed by July 27 at the latest.

You can find the full Department of Education guidance for schools here, and the Department of Health guidance here.

Here's a look at what the Department of Education is suggesting schools prepare implementing for each of the three scenarios.

In-person learning for all students

– This will be implemented if COVID-19 rates "continue to stabilize and/or improve" between now and the school year.

– Schools must create as much space between students and teachers as possible and minimize contact, but will not be held to strictly enforcing the 6 feet rule during teaching time in the classroom.

– Activities, sports, and extracurriculars will follow the state's youth sports guidance.

Hybrid learning with strict social distancing and capacity limits

– Will be implemented if COVID-19 worsens at the local, regional, or statewide level, or if there is a "clusters of cases within a classroom or the school."

– Schools must limit number of people in facilities and transportation to 50 percent of maximum occupancy.

– Social distancing of at least 6 feet "must occur at all times."

– If distancing cannot be achieved, the number of occupants in buildings or transportation must be reduced.

– Schools must plan for "contactless pick up and/or delivery of meals and school materials for days that students and staff are not in the school building, as well as implementation of a school-age care program for critical workers."

– Some face-to-face instruction will be replaced by distance learning, which can include "multimedia-enhanced content, learning practice, and channels for ongoing discussion."

Distance learning only

– "This scenario may be implemented if local, regional, or statewide COVID-19 metrics worsen significantly enough to require the suspension of in-person learning."

– Students must be given access to "appropriate educational materials and receive daily interaction with their licensed teacher(s)."

– Schools must ensure equitable access to learning, required materials, and technology.

– If using online learning, the school or district must ensure it can "effectively support" its teaching needs, including providing the option for one-on-one support for students who need it.

– Training on the implementation of distance learning must be provided to staff, students, and parents. 

– Access to programs for school nurses, school counselors, school psychologists, school social workers, paraprofessionals, other school specialists and cultural liaisons must be made available.

– Student attendance must be tracked.

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Health and safety is our "number one priority" 

If things continue to trend the way they have been with COVID-19, there's a chance that in-person instruction could resume in the fall, with the positive case rate, hospitalization rate, and death rate all slowing or falling.

Nonetheless, the priority for the departments will be the health and safety of students, teachers, and parents.

“We are learning more about COVID-19 every day, but we still can’t be sure about exactly how the pandemic will play out over the coming months,” Commissioner of Health Jan Malcolm said. “Until a vaccine is developed COVID-19 is likely to remain a serious concern, and we must be prepared for a variety of scenarios. We appreciate the partnership of the Minnesota Department of Education and the state’s school systems as we prepare for the start of school this fall.”

"As we look ahead to the next school year, the health and safety of our students will continue to be our number one priority," said Minnesota Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller.

"This spring brought about unprecedented changes to our society and our education system, and moving forward we must do everything we can to meet the needs of each and every student. The proactive planning that our school districts and charter schools will do this summer will ensure that our school communities are prepared for whatever this school year brings."

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