The Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) continues to clarify guidelines for how schools serve students during this current planning period as well as through distance learning that could begin as soon as March 30. View latest guidelines.
This comes in response to Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order issued on Sunday to close schools to students through March 27 to allow staff to plan for the potential of delivering distance learning for several weeks to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. The executive order, in effect, calls for all of Minnesota’s K-12 public schools to close by today through March 27. Schools are required to provide some essential services such as nutrition and child care during this time. View details of the executive order.
Minnesota Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said late Tuesday that Minnesota needs a statewide response because the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) expects the pandemic to become statewide even though the current map only shows 60 cases in 13 counties. View the latest update from MDH.
Here are the latest updates from Commissioner Ricker for school superintendents as of late Tuesday. MDE is holding at least daily calls with school superintendents on the response to COVID-19.
- Child Care Now: Schools have gained more clarity on emergency and healthcare workers eligible for school-age care for their children. There are two tiers. Learn more below.
- Distance Learning Expected: Districts should plan as if the distance learning will be implemented for an extended period of time. A blended approach is not expected to be possible for delivery at this time, given new guidelines on limiting gathering of 10 or more. It is important to keep in mind that distance learning is not the same as e-learning. Schools can send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Paying Bus Drivers & Others: Districts are expected to pay bus drivers and other contracted employees. They are part of the identified groups to continue to get paid. Long-term substitutes are considered the teacher of record and are expected to provide distance learning and to get paid. Casual substitutes are not required because they are not contracted.
- Special Education: MDE began releasing guidance on handling Special Education. Schools can plan on holding off on assessments at this time. See FAQ on SPED, including responses based on federal guidance to date. See Guidance on Instruction, Services and Programming.
- Community Education: MDE is preparing guidance and support for schools on how to handle Community Education during an extended closure.
Child Care Now
Districts are required to provide childcare for children of Tier 1 workers and if possible those in Tier 2 . See the full list.
Districts should make every effort to provide childcare for school-age children of workers in the outlined areas, if they are able to do so while adhering to the Minnesota Department of Health’s social distancing guidelines.
Commissioner Ricker responds to key questions from school leaders on handling COVID-19 closures:
Can districts modify schedules to meet daily interaction requirements. For example, can we go from a 7-period day to a block schedule with 3 classes a day?
Yes. This is kind of creative thinking we are looking for to provide equitable distance learning.
If someone is exposed to COVID-19, can they still work from home?
Yes, if they are exposed and self-quarantining, they can be assigned work from home. If they become ill, then they are eligible for sick leave according to master agreement.
What about initial or annual SPED assessments when students are not in school?
Hold off on assessments. Additional SPED guidance coming out on Wednesday.
Who are to report to work during this planning period, and who are the medically vulnerable and should work from home?
As set forth in the Gov. Executive order, “School employees are directed to report to work in accordance with applicable labor agreements and as required by their employers to assist with the emergency management planning activities provided in this Executive Order.” However, “nothing in this order should be construed to encourage or require Minnesotans in at risk categories to take action inconsistent with public health recommendations or the advice of their doctors.”
The expectation is that employees are to report for work unless there is a labor agreement that would override this, or if they are medically at-risk. Accommodations need to made for those at risk so they are assigned work that can be done from home and job duties swapped with others who are not at risk in like-for-like job classifications.
Refer to MDH site for guidelines on who is medically at-risk. On the MDH site, “People who are 70 and older, or people of any age who have underlying health conditions that put them at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, should stay at home.”
Can we ask for doctor verification for employees who self-describe as being at-risk, vulnerable, or medically fragile?
Employees are saying if bars and restaurants are closed, why are we reporting to work?
I understand the concern, but school buildings are very different from bars and restaurants. With very few exceptions, schools can accommodate social distancing especially when nearly all children are home. There is enough work to go around so all can contribute to preparing for a longer period of distance learning.
If we do not have work for individuals, can we put them on leave?
No, not through March 27 which is the extent of this Executive Order. Find ways for everyone to contribute starting March 30. MDE will provide updates, if expectations change.
Will schools get funding for SPED bus routes that are cost reimbursed if they do not run?
No is the answer at this point. This is still developing. MDE will refer to transportation personnel and plans to issue more guidelines on Special Education (SPED) in the next day.
How do we maintain Community Education personnel who provide fee-based services?
MDE is preparing guidance and support for schools on how to handle Community Education.
Here are the latest resources provided by MDE to schools:
- UPDATED: MDE Guidelines on Handling COVID-19 Closure – 3/17/20
- Special Education FAQ: Due Process – 3/17/20
Responses based on federal guidance to date
- Special Education: Instruction, Services and Programming – 3/17/20
Questions and answers regarding special education instruction, services and programming
- Q&A on School Closure – 3/17/20
- Child Care for Emergency Workers – 3/17/20
MREA developed a series of guides to help schools respond and plan for the spread of COVID-19:
Stay apprised of resources and news on COVID-19 for schools at: MREAvoice.org/covid19