Walz announces new elementary school plans starting in January

Starting Jan. 18, 2021, Gov. Tim Walz says every elementary school across the state will be allowed to go back to in-person learning, a big move for students, parents and teachers.

"This is going to take close collaboration," Walz said Wednesday.

He added, "It will be a monumental move to get students back in the classroom."

Walz said schools must implement additional mitigation strategies. Some of those strategies include providing and requiring staff to wear a face shield and mask, and offering regular voluntary testing to educators.

"We have been able to work to set up a system where using our service cooperative, which are nine regions around the state, to test staff every other week to identify asymptomatic spreaders coming into the building," Heather Mueller, deputy commissioner with the Minnesota Department of Education, said.

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That testing plan will start on Jan. 4 but will need state and federal funding to continue.

Education Minnesota, the union for teachers across the state, sees promise in the new plan, especially with the timeline.

"It allows everybody to have their winter break, to go do your thing and then have a couple of weeks to kind of get back, if you need to quarantine, quarantine, and get everybody settled down and into here we go," said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota.

Specht said one of the main reasons districts are in distance learning now is because of staffing shortages due to COVID-19 illness or quarantines. She said this new plan only works when everybody contributes.

"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," Specht said.