ST. PAUL -- The Minnesota Department of Education has directed school districts to plan for three possible scenarios in 2020-21.
The department, which announced its guidance Thursday, is asking districts to consider plans for three models: all students returning to school buildings following current Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines; implementing a distance learning model as done before; and implementing a hybrid model.
The Minnesota Department of Health, the governor’s office and Department of Education will announce their decision in the last week of July, about a month before school starts.
Districts are being asked to create a plan for each scenario over the next month.
If in-person classes resume, districts are asked to create as much space between students and teachers as feasible, but will not be required to strictly enforce 6-foot social distancing during primary instructional time in the classroom.
The Department of Education is also asking districts to plan for a hybrid model where schools would limit the overall number of people in school facilities and on buses to 50% maximum occupancy. If social distancing can't be achieved with 50% occupancy, the number would be reduced.
Schools would still have to provide contactless pickup and/or delivery of meals and school materials for days that students and staff are not in the buildings as well as implement a care program for children of critical workers.
According to the health department, the hybrid model may be implemented if COVID-19 metrics worsen at the local, regional or statewide levels. It may also be implemented within a specific school if it experiences clusters of cases.
In both scenarios where students are allowed in school buildings, schools must have staff available to monitor arrival and dismissal of students to curtail congregating and ensure students go straight from a vehicle to their classroom and vice versa. Schools will also have to discontinue self-service food and beverage distribution in cafeterias by only offering individually packaged items. If social distancing is not possible in the cafeteria, meals may be delivered to the classroom or students may bring food from the cafeteria back to their classrooms to eat.
Other recommendations include keeping students and staff in small groups that stay together as much as possible. Some of the more extreme recommendations include installing transparent dividers to separate staff and students from each other.
The Department of Education strongly recommends a requirement for staff and students to wear cloth face coverings, with some exceptions, especially when students and staff can't maintain 6 feet of distance. The health department also recommends having a supply of extra cloth face coverings available.
Districts are required to create a process for students, families and staff to self-identify as high risk for COVID-19 and have a plan in place to address requests for alternative learning arrangements or work reassignments.
Districts are also required to evaluate all current plans, such as individual health care plans, individualized education plans or 504 plans, for accommodating students with special health care needs and updates as needed to decrease their risk for exposure to COVID-19. Districts are also required to offer distance learning to enrolled students who may be medically vulnerable or otherwise unwilling to return to in-person or hybrid learning.
The health department also lays out plans for cleaning. And though it isn't a requirement, it is recommended that districts conduct daily temperature screenings for all people entering the school facilities or boarding school buses.
Districts in Minnesota finished the 2019-20 school year through distance learning, so many already have plans in place if that becomes the requirement again. Parents are asked to complete a survey about their distance learning experience to allow for better planning. The survey can be found at sgiz.mobi/s3/2020-Parent-Distance-Learning-Feedback-Survey.