MOORHEAD — A Minnesota teachers union has taken Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton Public Schools to court in an attempt to force the district to provide additional teacher preparation time that Gov. Tim Walz called for in his Nov. 5 emergency executive order related to distance learning.
Education Minnesota, the union representing pre-K-12 teachers and staff throughout the state, said in court documents that originally an extra 30 minutes were provided as per the executive order, but when the district returned to in-person instruction, the preparation time was eliminated despite some students continuing distance learning.
In March, Clay County District Judge Jade Rosenfeldt approved a petition ordering the school district to provide additional teacher preparation time as ordered by Walz, but Superintendent Bryan Thygeson challenged the ruling, saying the district was in compliance.
Zach Cronen, an attorney for the school district, sought to delay the case but on Thursday, April 15, Rosenfeldt decided that with five weeks left in the school year, a delay was not needed. Testimony was heard from witnesses on both sides of the issue, and Rosenfeldt ruled all parties must file their final legal briefs by 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 22.
The issue revolved around different interpretations of Walz’s executive order that stated teachers in distance learning and part-time learning models needed an extra 30 minutes of preparation time every day, but teachers in only face-to-face instruction did not need the extra time to prepare.
On March 16, Beth Tollefson, a plaintiff in the civil case who is also the president of Education Minnesota Dilworth-Felton-Glyndon, filed a petition called a writ of mandamus, saying teachers were expected to conduct in-person and distance learning coursework at the same time.
A writ of mandamus is a petition to a court to compel a public official to work under the law.
Rosenfeldt approved the petition on March 23, ordering the school district to provide additional teacher preparation time as ordered by executive order.
On April 2, Thygeson denied “each and every allegation, and thing contained in the petition,” asking for evidence, a delay in the case and for the order to be dismissed, according to court documents.
In testimony, Thygeson said he alerted staff in an email that as of March 15, teacher hours and preparation time would return to pre-pandemic times after a return to in-person learning.
He further stated the district followed the Minnesota Department of Education guidance in offering preparation time while in part-time or distance learning models. All students who are in distance learning have distance learning teachers, he said.
The district, which has two elementary schools, one middle school and one high school, had a total of 155 students elect to remain in distance learning and 1,415 students who returned to in-person learning when the district returned to face-to-face classes on March 15, Thygeson said in court documents.
Teachers who testified during the April 15 hearing said two-week quarantine periods force more work on teachers, as they want students to continue studies during their time away from in-person classes.
Jennifer Spitzner, a seventh grade science teacher at DGF Middle School, testified she is teaching in-person instruction five days a week. She has 10 full-time distance learning students, and her grade also has 28 students in quarantine.
She said her workload has doubled and designated distance learning teachers don’t actually teach.
“Today, for example, I had three Google meets, so the first hour I had 22 kids in my classroom, and because of quarantine I had 19 or 20 online. And then, during the fifth hour, I had kids in my classroom and another 15 who are at home,” Spitzner said, adding she has to provide online content and teach students in her classroom at the same time.