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Districts juggle uncertainty as they make fall plans

As districts decide their fall plans, they have a number of logistical concerns to balance.

MINNETONKA, Minn. — During a long, virtual board meeting on Thursday evening, more than 1,000 people tuned to YouTube at one point to learn more about the plan for Minnetonka Schools in the fall.

Several hundred parents submitted questions ahead of the meeting, where the district planned to unveil seven different options for learning. Some parents were adamant that no in-person classes should be held whatsoever, saying “students and teachers will get sick in full or hybrid scenarios.” Others urged the board to send their kids back to the classroom, arguing that children with special needs require in-person settings. And others simply questioned the logistics of the hybrid model, asking: “When I read through the different plans, some have students in school once a week… Are students really supposed to go a week without having their questions answered?”

As the discussions continued late into the evening, the debate began to mirror others happening across the state of Minnesota, as communities grapple with how to start the fall semester. Should kids go back to school entirely, or not at all? What would hybrid learning look like? Can districts change in the middle of the semester?

In Minneapolis and Saint Paul, two large districts that will begin online-only, both superintendents have said they will review data throughout the fall to see if any adjustments can be made. “I can tell you, SPPS community, there will be a successful re-opening in our future,” Saint Paul Superintendent Joe Gothard said when he announced his distance-learning recommendation. “We just don’t know when today.”

The matters become more complicated when you consider how these decisions are made. Districts are encouraged to work with the state to review local COVID-19 data, which has been broken down county-by-county. However, some districts draw students from multiple counties; one county within a district might have high caseloads with a guidance toward more distance-learning, while another in the same district might have lower cases with more allowance for in-person classes.

For that reason, one Wayzata official said during a meeting Thursday that she reached out to Hennepin County for information on district-specific data, but it doesn’t appear to be available yet.

Despite the uncertainty, Wayzata Superintendent Chace Anderson favors a hybrid learning scenario to start 2020 – and he fully recognizes the challenges.

“I long for the days when a snow day used to cause me stress. Like I used to enjoy,” Anderson said. “But, we’re in quite a different time now.”