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Minnesota Department of Education issues guidance for 2020-21 school year amid COVID-19

A final decision for the schooling scenario that will be used is expected to be made July 27.

ST PAUL, Minn. — The Minnesota Department of Education released a 100-page guide for public schools to prepare for three potential schooling scenarios in the upcoming academic year.

A final decision for the schooling scenario that will be used is expected to be made July 27.

The three scenarios outlined in the guide are: in-person learning, hybrid learning and distance only learning.

The following is a summary of what each scenario would look like:

  • In-person learning for all students: Schools are urged to create as much space between students and teachers as feasible throughout the day, but will not be held strictly to the 6-feet distancing guidance during "primary instructional time in the classroom." This scenario will be implemented if COVID-19 metrics continue to stabilize and/or improve.
  • Hybrid learning with strict social distancing and capacity limits: This type of learning will combine face-to-face and distance schooling. Schools and transportation will need to be limited to 50% maximum capacity. Social distancing of at least 6-feet would be implemented at all times. If distancing can't be achieved, the number of occupants will need to be reduced. Schools will need to implement contactless pickup/delivery of school materials and food. This scenario would be implemented if COVID-19 metrics worsen at the local, regional, or statewide level. This scenario will also be implemented within a school if they experience clusters of cases. 
  • Distance learning only:  Distance learning includes online, but also other methods to ensure that all students are able to receive their education. MDE said they expect all schools to provide students with needed educational materials. This scenario may be implemented if local, regional, or statewide COVID-19 metrics worsen significantly enough to require the suspension of in-person learning.    

"We really want to give our school districts the opportunity to plan thoughtfully for those three scenarios because it is quite possible that we will be in all three of those scenarios in the 2020/2021 school year," said Dr. Heather Mueller, deputy commissioner of MDE.

The following is a summary of what food services could potentially look like under the three scenarios:

  • In-person learning for all students: Physical distancing and other safe health practices according to guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and the Minnesota Department of Health’s new restaurant and dining guidance must be followed for both students and food service staff. 
  • Hybrid learning with strict social distancing and capacity limits: This scenario could only require one type of meal service such as, serving lunch at school or via distance learning distribution. But it could be a combination of both.
  • Distance learning only: Meal service to students could be provided by home delivery, curb-side pick-up, bus stop pick-up or other methods.

Infrastructure:

Schools are urged to give students district-provided technology such as hotspots to facilitate instructional material but also social connection and information to COVID-19 related news. Schools will work with families to meet their needs, according to the guidance.

"We are utilizing our time, now, in the summer actually," Mueller said. "We have school districts that are running a hybrid model, which is giving us a chance to learn a little bit more about their perspectives about what they're learning and how it is we can improve the model."

Even after a plan for returning to school is finalized, options will likely vary by district.

"We'll make recommendations but we talked a little bit about this earlier is that there is the possibility around more of a scalpel approach. It's possible that you have a school and a school district with multiple school buildings that is seeing an outbreak, it is possible that that building (with an outbreak) would need to go to a distance learning model, or a hybrid model," Mueller said. "It really is more of a fluid approach to a school, a district, a county, a community, and that's going to be based on the guidance, the feedback of the department of health."

RELATED: High school principals react to state's scenarios for re-starting school

In response, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka released a statement saying the MDE guidance lacked direction. 

“Today’s announcement from the Minnesota Department of Education was a non-announcement," Gazelka said. "They are not making an actual decision until July 27th but asking schools to plan for all three scenarios: opening in the fall, open with restrictions, and distance learning only. This direction is as clear as mud, and the inability to make a decision will hamper learning for students in the fall."

Families are encouraged to add their perspective as the July deadline approaches. MDE encourages parents and their students to fill out a Fall Planning Survey online.

"This is the opportunity for families to share their perspective on behalf of not only themselves, but also their students," Mueller said.

RELATED: MN Dept. of Health makes new recommendations for long-term care visitors

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The state of Minnesota has set up a hotline for general questions about coronavirus at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903, available 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. There is also a data portal online at mn.gov/covid19.