MDE clarifies guidance on learning model transitions, impact on athletics and activities

At the Anoka-Hennepin School Board meeting Monday, after the district announced it was transitioning its middle school and high school students to distance learning, the school board voted to keep activities and athletics operating.

It was a move that gave relief to many students and parents who gathered with signs outside the meeting.

Because the district isn’t being forced into distance learning based on COVID-19 numbers, those activities can continue, according to the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE).

"So the board didn’t really even need to take that vote?" Minnesota Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller was asked. "No, that’s right," Mueller responded.

There has been confusion over this, among many school districts.

MDE said it is hearing more questions from school districts, as more transition to distance learning, and sent out some clarifying guidance to help schools.

"I think as larger school districts transition to distance learning, there has been a renewed interest in how does this work and why does this happen in this way," Mueller said.

School activities directors acknowledge it’s been a challenge to navigate.

"We’re trying to execute activities," said Buffalo-Hanover-Montrose Schools Activities Director Tom Bauman.

"We want to keep kids participating, and we’re trying to do that, but the balancing act with doing what is safe and safe participation is going to continue to be there, and may be even more challenging as we had indoors with things," Bauman said.

Per MDE guidance, now that schools are two months into classes, districts should not only be looking at county COVID-19 numbers, but school numbers as well.

Mueller said that can also be narrowed down to activities.

"If you’re seeing a specific outbreak in a specific team, which is what we have seen over the course of fall sports and those teams actually quarantine for 14 days, that’s part of the incubation period, then they have the opportunity to come back," Mueller said.

"So, it’s basically take it on a sport-by-sport, activity-by-activity basis?" Mueller was asked. "Yes," she said.

"Looking at that sport by sport seems to make sense," Bauman added.

He said participation plays a big role in the mental health of students, and he hopes activity opportunities continue for that very reason.

"I just think we have the responsibility to keep trying for these kids and find the balance of that, and safe participation," Bauman said.