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Mounds View latest district postponing hybrid learning, why it won't be the last

How safety, staffing concerns and learning options are forcing districts to rethink back to school.

MOUNDS VIEW, Minn. — More and more Twin Cities metro school districts are abandoning hybrid learning plans to start the school year, this despite the fact that new county COVID-19 data provided by the Minnesota Department of Health shows more districts could resume in-person classes.

In many cases, staffing concerns and remote learning demand are tipping the scales in favor of distance learning.

Despite initially planning to reopen their doors for hybrid learning, Mounds View Schools alerted families on Thursday night that it will postpone its plan at least two weeks and start the year with distance learning.

"The physical and mental health of our staff, students and parents is too important to ignore," wrote Superintendent Chris Lennox, in the message to families.

According to the Minnesota Department of Education, there are several factors behind the abrupt changes.

"This is what no one envisioned when they went into education, quite honestly," said Heather Mueller, Deputy Education Commissioner.

Mueller says county COVID-19 data is just one hurdle to in-person or hybrid learning. The governor's "Safe Learning Plan" makes it clear that schools must first "offer an equitable distance learning model to all families". The recent executive order also states that districts "must allow school staff whose health is at risk or who have members of their household whose health is at risk to work from home to the extent possible".

"We'd never want to put any educators in a position where they have to make a decision about their profession or their health," Mueller said.

Despite that priority, each district and teachers' union is responsible for navigating those health and safety issues. The challenge has already been too much for Bloomington, which postponed hybrid learning this week after 25% of staff requested to work from home for health reasons.

"We just couldn't make the models work with the available staffing," said Rick Kaufman, Executive Director of Community Relations and Emergency Management for Bloomington Public Schools.

"It's huge," said Tony Taschner, spokesperson for Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan Public Schools (District 196).

Taschner says District 196 has been working with union leaders for months on planning for various models, but he says concerns among teachers are still being worked on.

"I'm confident that the work that's been done this week between the design team and leaders of our teachers' union, that we will be able to overcome that and figure it out to be able to start in hybrid."

Mueller says she's hopeful other districts and unions will come together to find a safe path forward for everyone.

"I would think about our community," Mueller said. "We are in a position where the chances of everyone being happy are going to be very small. If we put the health and the safety and the wellness of our students, our staff and families at the center, then the rest is what we build."

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