Minnesota school leaders discuss plans to return to in-person learning

Some Minnesota school districts are meeting Thursday to discuss the next steps in getting students back in class.

Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz said all elementary schools will be allowed to reopen for in-person learning starting Jan. 18, if certain guidelines are followed.

It’s a big move for younger students, parents and teachers.

Some of those strategies include providing and requiring staff to wear a face shield and mask and offering voluntary COVID-19 testing to educators.

State educational leaders say there will also be some guidelines for students.

"In-person learning always had the plan where students did not need to be physically distanced and so that is one of the pieces that we are going to implement," Minnesota Department of Education Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller said. "But we did say they are going to need to wear masks as one of the executive orders and so they will continue to wear masks."

School administrators are not wasting any time.

School officials in Minnetonka said their plan will allow for more students to be in school more often. They are expected to update families on their plan Friday.

Other districts, like Edina Public Schools, are also preparing to re-open.

In addition to elementary students, school leaders said they are planning to phase in students receiving special education and other support in early January.

As for South Washington County Schools, they do not have a definite return date for students. District officials said they need more time to prepare for the new requirements.

The re-opening of schools will have some challenges, like busing for students.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS talked with members of Education Minnesota who said one of the main reasons districts are in distance learning now is because of staffing shortages due to illness or quarantining.

Leaders said the new plan only works if everyone does their part.

"School districts now know what their marching orders are and I think it’s very doable and workable but this also means that the community still has to do everything they need to do from limiting in-person activities, masking and distancing, all of that," Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota, said.

The testing plan for staff will start Jan. 4 but it will need state and federal funding to continue.

As for youth and high school sports, practices can start again on Jan. 4 as well.