Spread within Minnesota schools not as high as initially feared, but problems remain

Ryan Raiche
Updated: November 11, 2020 09:00 AM
Created: November 10, 2020 08:02 PM

School districts around the state are faced with difficult decisions right now on dialing back in-person learning as COVID-19 cases are exploding in the region.

While the state continues to break daily records on new cases or hospitalizations, schools are feeling the impact in a different way compared to bars and restaurants, according to a top official at the Minnesota Department of Education.

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Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller told 5 INVESTIGATES that the spread in schools is not like the spread seen in social settings.

“We are not seeing that (spread) in the same way,” she said. “We are seeing that our schools and our students and staff are faring better than what may be happening in communities at large who are not following those mitigation factors. And so that, that the ability to be able to do that is incredibly important.”

In fact, in its latest update, the Minnesota Department of Health reported only 11 elementary schools in the state have five or more cases of COVID-19 — that amounts to just 1% of all elementary schools in Minnesota.

The numbers go up for the older kids — it’s about four times as much for middle and high schools reporting cases.

“In a lot of instances, we are seeing that the spread is actually happening within our communities,” said Mueller. “But we know that our schools have really thought about making sure that all of the mitigating practices are continuing to be in place.”

The bigger issue for schools stretches beyond just positive cases. Superintendents have reported major challenges with staffing shortages as more and more teachers are forced to go into quarantine.

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Many districts may be forced to shift into distance learning simply because maintaining the in-person or hybrid models are no longer sustainable. 

But Mueller insisted, the plan remains to let districts have control over when to move to a new model. She said there’s no truth to the rumors of a statewide shutdown of schools.

“We have that safe learning plan in place, because we really wanted to be able to make those local decisions, we want schools to be the last things that are stepping out. And we want our them to be the very first things that are able to come back,” Mueller said. “We recognize that the use of local-level data really gives the work that our schools have done the chance to actually take effect, the mitigating factors that they have included are really important pieces.”

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