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Mpls Public Schools' first choice for fall: Distance learning

"It's virtually not operational at this point for us," said Superintendent Ed Graff of what it would take to go back to in-person class in the fall.

MINNEAPOLIS — As the state prepares to announce a decision next week on guidelines for schools in the fall, Minneapolis Public Schools would prefer distance learning. 

There's good reason the district prefers that scenario for fall. Superintendent Ed Graff says over-enrollment, the staffing needed to safely operate under health guidelines, and the layout of the district's buildings all make in-person learning while adhering to health measures challenging.

"It's virtually not operational at this point for us," he said during an interview with KARE 11 Friday of what it would take to go back to in-person class in the fall.

Graff points to health guidelines for social distancing and keeping rooms at 50-percent capacity. 

"With some of our schools being over-enrolled, in terms of what the optimal capacity would be of those buildings, we're looking at having to have a 20-30% capacity in 29 of our buildings," he said. "We would not be able to create, at this point, a structure that would be consistent of two days a week or an A/B schedule [for hybrid learning]. We would have to have a varied program throughout the district."

Graff said some of the district's roughly 70 schools are more than 100 years old, with configurations that are more confining than newer buildings, making finding the six feet needed for social distancing difficult. 

A survey of families in the district found many don't want full-time in-person learning yet, according to Graff.

"There's a high, high desire for us to be in either a distance learning mode or hybrid mode," he said. 

Graff says the district hopes to be back for in-person class at some point during the 2020-2021 school year. The district's plan for getting there is a continuum, similar to the "dial" Governor Walz laid out for the reopening of the state. 

The district's "phase one" was the distance learning it did last spring. The district's ideal scenario for the fall is what they call "phase two" or "distance learning with supports." Graff explained it as an improved model of what was done in the spring, with a structured schedule, more supplemental support and tutoring for students who need it, and a common online platform.

"So we don't have various platforms that teachers are having to learn, or families are having to work with, making sure that we have a dashboard and design the tools that provide easy access in multiple classrooms," Graff said. 

Credit: Minneapolis Public Schools
The Minneapolis Public School "dial" for returning to in-person learning.

Movement on the district's "dial" would depend on infection rates and feedback from families and staff.

Meanwhile, the unions for educators in Minneapolis and St. Paul are pushing for distance learning in the fall, too. 

The Saint Paul Federation of Educators and Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals held a rally Friday in St. Paul. The unions say members do not want to return to in-person class until virus protection measures improve and there is better learning support for students of color.

Credit: KARE
St. Paul and Minneapolis educators march Friday to advocate for distance learning in the fall.

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