Walz orders all Minnesota schools to close beginning Wednesday

Gov. Tim Walz announced Sunday morning that all Minnesota K-12 public schools will close beginning on Wednesday, March 18 and remain closed through Friday, March 27.

Walz, who spoke along with several state leaders, said the closure is to accommodate planning between school staff, teachers and administrators with guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) regarding the COVID-19 outbreak.

His announcement came a day after MDH announced seven more positive cases of COVID-19, bringing the state’s total to 21. Walz and MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm confirmed that number had risen to 35 as of Sunday morning. More information was expected to be released by MDH at a later time.

MDH: 35 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, first 3 cases involving community spread

"My top priority as Governor is the safety of Minnesotans. As a former teacher, and father of two teenage kids, I’m especially focused on the safety of our children," Walz said. "I am ordering the temporary closure of schools so educators can make plans to provide a safe learning environment for all Minnesota students during this pandemic. Closing schools is never an easy decision, but we need to make sure we have plans in place to educate and feed our kids regardless of what’s to come."

The move follows what several other states have already done. The following states have also announced school closures of varying lengths: Alabama, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin. Utah also issued a "soft closure" for two weeks, but classes are continuing online.

Full KSTP coronavirus coverage

Walz said the executive order still requires schools to provide care for elementary-age children of health care professionals, first responders and other emergency workers during the closure to help ensure first responders and health care professionals can stay on the job.

Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said the state is preparing for the potential of weeks of "distance learning."

In response to the news, the Minnesota Nurses Association tweeted its support and appreciation of Walz and his decision.

Walz also urged Minnesotans to follow MDH’s community mitigation strategies during the closure to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Some schools already announced they’re closing Monday and Tuesday, including St. Paul Public Schools, Minnetonka and Wayzata school districts. Minneapolis Public Schools said it will be open Monday, but close Tuesday. You can track all of those by clicking on coronavirus closures and cancellations here.

Walz said he supports schools closing Monday and Tuesday, but started the mandatory closure on Wednesday so those who needed to get something from school buildings could do so on Monday and Tuesday, and districts could begin plans for the closure.

You can also see the latest disruptions due to COVID-19 here.

House Republican Education Leads Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, and Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, issued the following statement after Walz’s announcement:

"We are fully supportive of the difficult decision to close Minnesota schools in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. This is a step that will have far-reaching consequences for hundreds of thousands of Minnesota families. While our focus remains on helping Minnesotans navigate this crisis, legislators stand ready to assist the administration with legislative changes that are needed to adjust school year or other requirements and mitigate the countless consequences an extended closure will have."

House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler added:

"Governor Walz’s decision to temporarily close Minnesota schools is in the best interest of Minnesotans, and we appreciate the thoughtful way his executive order addresses the need for care and meals for our children. The Minnesota House of Representatives has also introduced legislation to ensure our hourly school workers are compensated for days canceled due to COVID-19, and we are working to enact this quickly. We will continue working closing with Governor Walz and his Administration, along with Senate Republicans, as we navigate this pandemic."

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka issued the following statement:

"The decision to temporarily close schools was not made lightly, and we are going to keep reevaluating to determine what’s best for Minnesotans. It’s a very fluid and changing situation. People need to be prepared, not panicked, and use their common-sense.

"The Senate is going to keep working on not only COVID-19 and coronavirus, but other issues as well. Because once this passes, Minnesotans still expect their government to work, to provide support and service, and solve problems."

This is a breaking news story. Stay with KSTP for the latest updates.