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Minnesota teachers react to Gov. Walz's announcement to reopen elementary schools

Some teachers say it's fine, some say it's a choice they're being forced to make between their students and family.

MINNEAPOLIS — Governor Walz announced on Wednesday that elementary schools can return to an in-person learning model starting on January 18th if they so choose.

As with anything, there were two sides when it comes to how this message is being received.

Teachers like Lindsey West will be always be teachers, regardless of their platform. On Wednesday, West bragged about how great her class was.

"I know most teachers would say, yes my class is great – but, you know, hands down mine's the best," West said with a laugh.

West is a 5th grade teacher at Clara Barton Open School. She said teaching online this school year hasn't been the easiest, but it felt like they were able to hit a good groove.

"This school year is far better than it was in the spring," West said. "I think we've done a really good job of finding ways to keep kids engaged throughout the school day."

So when she heard the Governor's announcement about elementary schools being given the option to re-open for in person learning mid-January, West expressed the rock and a hard place that she and many other teachers will soon be in.

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"I do know that the kids miss being with us, there is a deep desire from families and kids to want to return, but you know, the health and safety of my students is really important to me as well as my family," she explained. "My daughter has asthma, and my mom has various health issues and needs, so risking my family to potential exposure is something I worry about."

Tim Owen, a 6th grade history teacher in Austin, Minn., echoed similar sentiments.

"We would love to be in person – there's no doubt about it," Owen said. "Without a doubt we would prefer our students be in the classroom, but there are several of us, concerned about the safety issue as well."

Denise Specht, the president of Education Minnesota said the safety concerns teachers have are valid. However, she said she's quite happy with the governor's orders of putting young ones' education first, while relatively strict regulations remain for the community.

"At the end of the day, everybody leaves and they interact outside of the school day which is why I am glad to hear that we are still having some strict recommendations out in community," Specht said. "I've always said, if you want to open schools, then we all need to do the right thing."

Perhaps to get some perspective into what the future might possibly hold for schools returning to an in-person model in January, we can look to Henning Public Schools. 

HPS kindergarten teacher Pam Amundson said they never canceled in-person learning.

"Family members have had COVID, but my students at the kindergarten age did not--only one out of the 15," Amundson said. "On that, the numbers for the young children have been low."

She also said even the youngest ones are quite good at following rules, like being six feet apart. She added that she's confident they will finish the school year strong, in person.

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"My kindergartener – I'm so proud of at this young age they're very good about wearing their masks," she said. "It's very responsible and always coming to school with a mask we also have extras on hand of course."

The consensus among all these teachers is that they love their students.

"[It's] not why I became a teacher to look at a computer screen," Owen said. "If I wanted an office job, I would have gotten a way different major."

"Teachers love their students," West said. "No matter what a family chooses, we will always do the very best that we can to meet you where you're at."

"We do our best to keep safe, and unable to give those wonderful hugs to our students is the hard part," Amundson added.

Specht with Education Minnesota said she's hoping the timing will work out for many schools facing teacher/staff shortages due to COVID. Winter break will happen soon, and she said teachers and staffers can take advantage of that time to rest up and prepare for in-person teaching if that is the direction their school chooses to go on January 18th.