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St. Paul Public School District hoping to meet readiness targets before transitioning to hybrid learning

The school district says they can't reopen for hybrid learning without adequate staffing.

Dozens of teachers and staff took to the streets Wednesday as a part of a national day of action with educators nationwide.

“We had a number of educators both from Minneapolis and St. Paul,” says English Language teacher, Erica Schatzlein.

Schatzlein says one of the biggest concerns before transitioning to a hybrid learning model – safety. “We can’t assure families of that, until we can, we don’t feel we are ready.”

A spokesperson from St. Paul Public Schools says the district is assessing county COVID-19 rates and working to meet 23 readiness targets before safely transitioning to hybrid learning on October 19. That’s including health protocols, adequate PPE, and building safety. As of last Friday, they’ve met 22 of those readiness targets, all except for workforce availability.

“Everyone wants to get back to school, but I think we’re still nervous with the safety of it,” says parent Clayton Howatt.

Howatt is a parent of a 4th and 5th grader in the district. He says so far, distance learning is working for his family. “My daughters would prefer to be in school with their friends, but we’ve been pleased with the curriculum and our teachers have been really available,” says Howatt.

Stage 1 of the St. Paul Public School’s transition to hybrid learning would allow 500 students – starting with the highest need, and special education.  The rest of the students are expected to gradually transition back to in-person learning through a 4-step process.

Superintendent, Dr. Joe Gothard, issued a statement directly in response to Wednesday’s rally:

“I am disappointed that SPFE leadership is in opposition to the return of our students to the classroom. While our families are demanding SPPS moves to Hybrid learning, our teacher's union is delaying our ability to do so.”

While teachers like – Schatzlein – say they want more negotiations when it comes to hybrid learning. “Distance learning is hard, hybrid is hard, trying to have equitable education in the middle of a pandemic is hard,” she says. “None of our educators are saying we aren’t ready to ever go back to a school.”

Parents – like Howatt – say they’re keeping an eye on safety precautions before students transition from virtual learning to in-person classes.

The school district will be meeting weekly to reassess those readiness targets-- with a plan to start Stage 1 of hybrid learning by that October 19 date. If all goes well, the district will transition to Stages 2 and 3 of their hybrid model on November 16.

Here's the full statement from Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard:

"I am disappointed that SPFE leadership is in opposition to the return of our students to the classroom. While our families are demanding SPPS moves to Hybrid learning, our teacher's union is delaying our ability to do so.

The best place for both students and educators is in the classroom. My team and I have been focused on making that happen safely since March. I fought for a delay in an in-person learning so I could ensure we have stringent health and safety protocols in place. We have also established a comprehensive list of 24 Readiness Targets, 23 of which have been met. We do not need additional funding to begin Hybrid learning, we need our staff to return. Our returning workforce is the only readiness target we have not met to date.

Hundreds of SPPS staff have been safely engaging in in-person work with students for months; in our Essential Kids Care and Discovery Club child care locations. We have demonstrated the effectiveness of our protocols.

Those families who choose not to return for Hybrid learning have the option to select our Virtual Learning School for their students. No student will be forced to go back into the classroom.

We are working to meet the final Readiness Target so that we can begin Stage 1 of Hybrid learning on Oct. 19. We are evaluating our readiness weekly, and will report on our progress again this Friday.

We also have transition days supported by the Minnesota Department of Education Safe Learning Plan. Once we confirm our Stage 1 start date, we will plan with our educators to ensure they receive transition planning time during these transition days.

Let me be clear: Our families, our students and our community, along with SPPS leadership, all want our students and educators back in the classroom as soon as it's safe. That time has come. Demands to "slow down the process" do not put the needs of our students and families first.

I would ask SPFE leadership to encourage staff to report according to our plan for transition to Hybrid learning. Like hundreds of thousands of schools and districts around the world who are currently in some form of Hybrid learning, SPPS is ready."