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Many questions surround potential return to in-person classes

The state will make a decision by the week of July 27 about whether K-12 students will return for in-person classes.

HIBBING, Minn. — Susan Nelson noticed something strange about her small group of summer school students at Hibbing High School this year: They were very happy to be there. 

"They're never joyful coming in for summer school - ever. Until this year," she said. "They were just like 'We're here!' Because they had been gone since March and this was June 15. I had never seen anything like it."

Nelson, who teaches science and theater at the high school, would like to return for in-person teaching in the fall, too. However, she realizes how much work it will take to make that happen. She's on her district's planning team, which is working on how its schools would adapt to each of the Department of Education's three scenarios for fall instruction

Nelson says they've measured classrooms to find out how many students could fit while adhering to social distancing, but there are many more things to consider. 

"If you're thinking of cutting down the number of kids that are on a bus, and you have to send out twice as many buses, where is the funding going to come for things like that?" she asked. 

Nelson has more questions, too: What if a substitute teacher, who visits multiple classrooms, gets sick? How is one elementary school teacher supposed to monitor a line of elementary school students, made considerably longer by the space required for social distancing? If school buses make multiple runs to accommodate for social distancing, who will supervise the students waiting at the school after an earlier drop off?

"Every time we start planning it's, 'But what if ... but what if ...'" she said. "And there are so many 'what ifs.'"

Credit: KARE
Susan Nelson teaches science and theater at Hibbing High School.

Nelson isn't the only teacher with questions. 

"I've been having conversations with teachers where they say, 'So, what if somebody gets sick in our building? Who is going to fill their shoes? What's to say a [substitute teacher] is necessarily going to want to come and be in the building, too?'" said Bernie Burnham, Vice President of Education Minnesota. 

Burnham says teachers want to return to the classroom, but as long as resources are in place to do it safely. 

"How do you ensure that there's plenty of PPE and there's plenty of cleaning supplies?" she asked. "We have teachers who are in all different stages of life and some people have health issues already. So, if you go back and you're fearful of getting the virus because of that, that's a concern."

Nelson says she feels safe teaching her small group of summer school students, all of whom wear masks. She says she'd feel safe returning to the classroom in the fall, too, as long as the right safety measures are in place. 

"But if we can't get those safety measures in place, I don't feel safe," she said. "If we're putting 20 kids in a classroom and they're all in the hallways intermixing between [classes] and all of that, then I just feel like that's being in a Petri dish."

The state says they'll make a decision by the week of July 27 about what instruction will look like for K-12 students in the fall. 

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