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School districts urge caution as kids return to classes

As students return post-winter break, district leaders are asking parents to keep their children at home if they aren't feeling well as COVID cases spike.

MINNEAPOLIS — Students across Minnesota are returning students to classrooms this week, but with COVID cases still on the rise districts are asking parents to keep their kids home if they're sick.

In a letter to parents, the Minneapolis Public School district emphasized that if a student has cold or COVID-like symptoms, they should not come to class. Instead they should stay at home and get tested for the virus. 

Superintendent Ed Graff also wrote that as of Sunday, the district did not have plans to move all students to distance learning. However, if there is a surge in infections, certain schools may temporarily pivot to online classes.

Graff confirmed during a virtual press conference Monday afternoon that 285 teachers from 67 district sites had called out for the day, but said that number of absences isn't "atypical." He told reporters that between 200 and 300 teachers (from a total of 3,500 employed district-wide) call out on an average day. 

The superintendent says teacher absences are compounded by the larger labor shortage. Graff explained that MPS has taken a number of steps to improve the situation including increasing substitute pay by up to 20%, assigning full-time subs to buildings with high absentee rates, and holding drive-thru job fairs to increase the worker pool.  

At Saint Paul Public Schools, as students return on Monday morning the district continues to advocate for vaccines, masking, and like Minneapolis, for students to stay home and get tested if they're feeling unwell. 

Anoka-Hennepin, the largest school district in the state, won't return students from winter break until Tuesday, Jan. 4, but when they return masks will be required for all students grade K-6, and staffers working with those grades. 

In Roseville, schools have been closed for 16 consecutive days over the winter holidays. District spokesman Josh Collins says hopefully the break provided some relief for mental health and wellness. Collins says the district will be doing what it can to keep students learning in school now that they are returning to the classroom.

Minnesota Rural Education Association director Bob Indihar says superintendents have expressed concerns about the omicron variant. 

School districts statewide are also debating the latest guidelines from the CDC that have shortened the isolation time after a positive test from 10 days to five.

MPS said the district has not decided whether quarantine requirements will be shortened. The district is meeting in the next two weeks to decide whether to implement the CDC's new guidelines for shortened isolation time after a positive case. 

The Minnesota Department of Health is not recommending the new time frame at this time, but may address the issue as early as Monday. 

"There are many different sectors for which CDC has had specific information, like for health care workers or sometimes for corrections or other particular sectors, so we're just waiting to get a little more information so that we can speak confidently about how this impacts all Minnesotans in their unique situations," said Kris Ehresmann, MDH Director of Infectious Disease Epidemiology, Prevention, and Control Division. 

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