ST PAUL, Minn. — She made up her mind even before state leaders announced a plan Thursday for Minnesota public school districts this fall. Lauren Smrekar said, no matter what, she won't send her daughters to school buildings for in-person learning.
Her youngest was only a pre-kindergartner last spring when classes abruptly transitioned to distance learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
"It's an immersion school," Smrekar said. "It was in French so that made it extra tricky because there's the language barrier."
Challenges and all, she insists distance learning will be best for her family this year.
Fortunately for them, their district, St. Paul Public Schools, said it would offer online learning regardless of Thursday's highly anticipated announcement.
SPPS Learning at Home is essentially a full-time school available to all students the entire upcoming school year. It's not a digital version of existing schools.
"Basically that is going to be our choice is between distance learning like at that specialized distance learning school or if we can stick with the immersion program, which we really want to do," Smrekar said ahead of the announcement.
In Thursday's press conference, Gov. Tim Walz announced the state will work with districts to make individual decisions about whether students go back to school in person. In response, St. Paul Public Schools said its district will recommend starting the school year with distance learning. That's great news for the Smrekars.
"The leading recommendation is that SPPS will plan to start the school year in distance learning for all students," according to an updated message on the district's website. "We will continue to review all the facets of MDE’s guidance, and will provide additional details about our reopening plans with families and staff next week."
The message also said the district would "look at returning to a hybrid or in-person learning scenario later this fall."
If it turns out the French school, L'Étoile du Nord, will not be available online, then it's au revoir for this family.
"They can't go back to school full time. I mean my kids eat candy off the bus floor," Smrekar said. "I can't trust them to wash their hands or not mess with their mask it's just not going to work."
The reason, she said, is Lupus.
"What that means is my body is already sort of attacking itself," she said. "A viral infection even sort of innocuous ones can get in there. Like one time my heart got enlarged because this mild virus got in there and out of nowhere I'm saying I have chest pains and I'm like 35. I'm okay now, but, yeah, something like COVID could get in there and just I mean clean house."
Her husband is also immuno-compromised, she said.
"We're all sort of trying to do what's best for our families," she said. "It's really hard to focus on what's best for you and then also realize everybody is dealing with so much different stuff right now. It's hard."