COVID-19 causing concern as students head back to class after holiday break

As students in one of the largest school districts in the state head back to class Monday, they do so without 285 of their teachers.

"Obviously it puts pressure on our district and the system," said Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Ed Graf.

Graf says there are 3500 teachers in the district at 67 sites, and between 200-300 teachers are out each day.

"They range from illness and travel delays, the top three for today are personal illness, personal leave and family illness," Graf said.

He says the district has increased substitute teacher pay by about 20%, subs now earn between $192 and $216 a day, has added full-time substitutes at 30 sites, has utilized licensed staff within buildings and those at the district’s central office to teach, but in a letter to families Graf stated, "As we move through this surge in COVID-19 infections, some schools may temporarily move to distance learning…"

"Ultimately we are balancing the need to keep our students safe but also ensuring they are learning," Graf said.

"Our kids need stability right now more than ever and to have 300 people out without an actual plan, without coverage that is safe, is the worst thing that we can be doing to our kids," said Greta Callahan, President of the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers.

She says when students are out quarantining now, some sites have instruction for them, and some do not.

"That’s an incredibly inequitable system and that is bad for kids and that is bad for the future of Minneapolis," Callahan said.

"When we don’t even have time to prepare for them now, and when they are out they don’t have a teacher in front of them online, that is not what is best for them and we don’t have a plan across the district," she added.

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Nationwide some school districts have added additional days off this week before returning to class due to COVID, in fact, some in Minnesota have made this change.

In neighboring Wisconsin, Milwaukee and Madison will start via distance learning, a sign this is a concern everywhere.

"We have been trying to operate with the greatest number of mitigation strategies that we can, certainly there is more work to be done as we evaluate everyday, but we are doing the best we can everyday and trying to find that delicate balance," Graf said.

Minneapolis Public Schools says if a decision is made to move to distance learning families would be given as much notice as possible to transition.