MOORHEAD — Moorhead Area Public Schools will decide by mid-August on whether to go back to in-person classroom learning.
A timeline was released by the district on Thursday, July 30, calling for input sessions with employees on Aug. 5 and parents on Aug. 10 before the school board makes the final decision Aug. 18.
Schools in Minnesota are set to open after Labor Day on Sept. 8.
Brenda Richman, executive director of community engagement for the district, said the Moorhead administrative team had already been vetting many options and scenarios this summer to bring staff and students back to school safely this fall before Gov. Tim Walz and his staff released statewide guidelines on Thursday afternoon.
The state plan leaves decisions on the type of learning models up to the state's 336 districts based on localized, science-based, data-driven information, using as the guiding force the number of active COVID-19 cases in their counties.
State health officials are set to determine a county's number of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 over a two-week period to help local decisions on whether a district could go back to full in-person instruction, partial in-person instruction or distance learning. And they could require a school to move to a different approach if cases climb.
Walz and officials with the state Department of Education said that under those state guidelines and looking at numbers as of mid-July almost all of the districts, especially in rural areas of Minnesota, would be eligible to go back to the classroom. Only about seven districts statewide would have to stick to distance learning, while many others might have hybrid models emphasizing in-person classes, especially for elementary or younger students.
Private schools aren't included in the guidelines, although Walz said they would be provided masks.
Walz said the statewide goal is to have all students in classrooms as research shows that's the "best place for learning."
However, he said they also must keep the virus out of the school communities. With that in mind, the state is set to use $430 million in federal funding to buy face coverings for teachers, students and staff, increase testing capacity and scale up cleaning and technology for schools. State health and education officials said that health and safety would be top priorities in determining if schools could transition back to in-person learning.
Walz's team said the state will provide one cloth mask for each student and staff member, with backup disposable masks available in case it's forgotten at home.
Richman said a draft plan for Moorhead will be finalized, updated with those new guidelines from the state, in the coming days.
The plan can be reworked and edited with new suggestions after the employee and parental input sessions.
More than 2,000 Moorhead families responded to its district's survey, with 75% of them saying they would send their children to school, 23% saying they're uncertain and a little above 1% saying they wouldn't send them.
Even if schools reopen classrooms, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said families still have the option to keep their children at home.
She said her daughter has asthma and that it's been a concern for her family, too.
"Every family will have to have that necessary conversation and weigh the risks," Flanagan said.
There were also concerns raised during Walz's announcement that some rural districts likely don't have the space to adequately have social distancing in place.
State Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker, however, said the department was willing to work and consult with districts across the state.
She said, as an example of the ingenuity of districts already, that one district was going to use a much larger room in the local American Legion club down the block for band instruction because the school's band room was too small.
Walz also said the state plan was a starting point as they strive to open up classrooms.
"There are 10,000 scenarios," he said about the situations in schools, and added that plans could change as they continue to learn more about the virus and its transmission.
Calls to superintendents in the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton and Barnesville school districts in Clay County weren't immediately returned Thursday.