While hundreds of schools in the state have had at least one case of COVID-19, some districts are moving from distance learning into at least some form of in-person learning.
Many of the largest school districts in Minnesota began the year with all distance learning, but are making efforts to bring students back into the classroom over the next few weeks.
Mounds View and North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale school districts this week began welcoming at least some students to school buildings for in-person/hybrid learning, the Pioneer Press said.
Meanwhile, Osseo will move from distance learning to hybrid learning for all grades starting Sept. 28, the Minnesota Department of Education's (MDE) website shows. St. Louis Park schools will do the same on Oct. 5.
Roseville schools will phase-in bringing students back into buildings for hybrid learning, starting with kindergarteners and first graders on Oct. 12, MDE's website says.
Meanwhile, some other large school districts have yet announce plans to get students back into the physical classroom after having started the school year with distance learning.
St. Paul Public Schools will announce Friday if some special-education programs will begin in-person instruction on Oct. 19. All students have been distance learning since the start of the school year.
Minneapolis Public Schools do not have a timeline for when in-person or hybrid learning could begin, the Pioneer Press says. And Bloomington is working on a plan for hybrid learning, but there's no timeline for it.
Statewide, hybrid learning – where students split time between learning in-person and online – is the most common, with 24% of schools doing hybrid learning, according to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Safe Learning Model Dashboard. Twenty-three percent of schools are doing in-person learning, 14% are doing strictly distance learning and 40% are doing some type of combination of the three.
COVID-19 cases reported at schools
This comes as more than 350 out of the more than 2,000 schools in Minnesota have had at least one student or staff member test positive for the coronavirus, MPR News reports. In some school buildings, more than one student or staff member has tested positive, forcing schools to decide to switch to all distance learning.
That's what Brainerd Public Schools recently did. The district moved students in grades 9-12 to all distance learning for two weeks after a "growing cluster" of cases among the student body. Hybrid learning is scheduled to resume on Oct. 8.
"We're very concerned about what we're seeing with the data," Kris Ehresmann, infectious disease director at MDH, said this week. "We're concerned for a couple of reasons. One is our educators have worked very hard to create a safe learning plan, but that plan only works if we're all working together to reduce transmission.
"We're very concerned that with the high rate of transmission that we're seeing that it won't be too much longer until we really have difficult decisions to make, or many schools have difficult decisions to make."
State guidelines for schools
Despite this, most school districts are in counties where the incidence of COVID-19 is low enough to qualify for at least some in-person instruction, based on state guidelines.
Schools in Minnesota use state health guidance and county infection rates to make informed decisions about holding classes in person or online.
As of Sept. 24, the MDH reported only one county (Waseca at 85.7 cases per 10,000) exceeding 50+ cases per 10,000 residents, which is the threshold for 100% distance learning for all students.
That's down from six counties in the Sept. 17 report, though there are now eight (up from three) counties with 30-50 cases per 10,000 residents, which calls for a hybrid model for elementary students and distance learning for high schoolers.
The eight counties are: Big Stone (43.86 cases per 10,000), Blue Earth (34.83), Clay (42.36), Stevens (34.75), Swift (34.00), Watonwan (32.81), Winona (44.64) and Yellow Medicine (39.52).
Here are the guidelines:
- 0-9 cases per 10,000 residents: In-person learning for all students
- 10-19 cases per 10,000 residents: In-person learning for elementary students; hybrid learning for secondary students
- 20-29 cases per 10,000 residents: Hybrid learning for all students
- 30-49 cases per 10,000 residents: Hybrid learning for elementary students; distance learning for secondary students
- 50+ cases per 10,000 residents: Distance learning for all students