Minnesota’s ‘Safe Learning Plan’ lays out how schools should open, change if need be

WINONA, Minn. (WKBT)– How Minnesota schools open in a few weeks will be based on new guidance from the state.  On Thursday, leaders laid out the ‘Safe Learning Plan,’ which bases decisions on how to reopen on local COVID-19 data.

It wouldn’t be a school year without a little math, which is exactly what the plan calls for. You take the number of cases and divide it by the county’s population per 10,000 people to get where to start.

“It’s going to be a first day of school unlike any we’ve ever seen,” said Gov. Tim Walz (D-Minnesota), in a press conference.

Based on the metrics right now, public schools in Houston County could do all in-person learning. This also applies to Wabasha and Fillmore Counties.

In Winona County, elementary students go to schools for in-person learning. But middle and high school students would have to do a mix of in-person and distance learning. The same goes for Wabasha County.

There are three counties in the state that should not provide any in-person instruction as the plan calls for all distance learning.

“Where it is physically possible to teach our students, we will do that,” Walz said.

If a district is near a county border and has students coming from a county with a more restrictive plan, they should use that model.

Under an executive order, school districts have to follow these plans, but there is wiggle room. As long as they follow certain steps, it can be less restrictive.

“Schools can make the decision to implement a more restrictive model if they choose to do so,” said Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan (D-Minnesota), during the press conference.

If the local COVID-19 situation changes, their plan needs to as well. Winona Area Public Schools Superintendent Annette Freiheit said she hopes to have as little change as possible during the year. But if they do, they need to make it as seamless as they can.

“There’s enough stress with this pandemic already that if we can keep that as stable as possible, I think it will help tremendously,” said Freiheit.

Districts still have to provide distance learning for those who request it. Teachers and staff must also be provided an option to work remotely.

But for those who want their students to be back at school, any disruption could be difficult to navigate. Childcare options have changed and many parents and caretakers have gone back to work. Freiheit said they understand switching to a different model could greatly impact families.

This is why they need the community’s help to stop the spread. That means wearing a mask, social distancing and washing your hands frequently.

“For parents too, if your child is sick, please keep them at home,” Freiheit said.

If there is a case of COVID-19 in the school, there are a series of scenarios that will determine who will be tested and quarantined. State officials said testing is a critical factor to provide in-person learning.

The state is also prepared to issue one fabric face covering for all teachers, staff and students. They also have enough supplies for three disposable masks in case a student forgets a mask, as well as some for staff. Face shields will also be provided for every teacher and half of all non-licensed staff.

With the start of school rapidly approaching, WAPS officials will be working quickly to confirm their safety plan. They’ll present it during the next school board meeting for feedback, especially what precautions will be in place for in-person learning.

“What it looks like exactly is going to get worked out in the next week or so,” Freiheit said.

The full plan can be found here.