(KEYC) — This first day of school will look like no other.
On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Tim Walz announced a much-anticipated plan to start the next school year. It’s a plan with flexibility for school districts.
It wasn’t as simple as option one, two or three. Gov. Tim Walz announced guidelines for individual school districts to reopen with in-person, distance or hybrid learning.
It’s all based on the number of new COVID-19 cases in each county per 10,000 county residents, which means the start of the school year will not look the same for all students across southern Minnesota.
“This is a localized data-driven approach to making sure school districts where it is physically possible to teach our students, we will do that,” Walz said.
Walz calls it the ‘Safe School Plan.’ The state unveiled criteria that will allow individual school districts to implement: navigating them to a decision of full in-person learning, full distance learning, or a hybrid of the two.
Based on Thursday’s data from the Minnesota Department of Health for Martin County, the recommendation for Fairmont Area Schools would be in-person learning for all students.
‘‘Knowing what we know now, our school districts all across the county could probably open,” Fairmont Area Schools Superintendent Joe Brown said. “But what we want to do is survey our staff, survey our parents and listen to their concerns and try to answer their questions before we make a recommendation.”
In addition to those inside the school, Brown says the efforts of the entire community will make a difference.
“Whether you go to Fareway, Safeway, Hy-Vee, whatever grocery store, the post office. Wear your mask. Socially distance at all times, and keep your hands clean. Those are the three things you can do to get COVID-19 cases down to a level that will be safe for our faculty, our students and our community.”
The governor also pointed to the importance of social distancing and the recent statewide mask mandate.
“We have made changes that slow the spread,” Walz said. “And last week we made one that if we adhere to it, will go a long way to keeping these schools open and keeping children in the classroom: wearing masks.”
He also said resources will be given to school districts statewide to ensure no student will be forced to return to classrooms.
“If your child has underlying health conditions, if you do, if there are extenuating circumstances, where you feel that is not the appropriate way for your child to go back, they will be provided a learning opportunity that will allow you to distance learn.”
Walz said Thursday’s announcement is not perfect, but says it is the best way to give students the education they need in a safe way.
“When people say ‘open schools,’ that’s not a plan. That’s a slogan. We all believe we need to get our students back there. But you are owed the best plan with the best resources and the best communication among localized experts, state resources, and the best practices that are being deployed not only here, but in other states and other countries around the world.”
Walz also announced a COVID-19 testing component for teachers. We will learn more about that in the coming days.