Kindergarteners through second graders in St. Paul Public Schools headed back to the classroom Monday for the first time in 11 months. Grades 3-5 will finally return Feb. 16.
The last day most of the 37,000 St. Paul students were in school was March 7, 2020. Since then, a teacher strike caused several more days to be lost and 15 instructional days were outright canceled so teachers could prepare for a transition to “distance learning” last spring.
Unfortunately, Twin Cities middle and high school students remain in distance learning. This continues to hurt all children, but especially the poorer and more vulnerable, as Minnesota students fall behind and miss out on support services schools provide.
High school students in the state capital failed 34 percent of their first-quarter classes, while it was nearly 30 percent for middle schoolers.
The state’s second-largest district is among the last to reopen during the pandemic. Minneapolis Public Schools start phasing students back next week.
Gov. Tim Walz announced seven weeks ago that elementary schools could reopen in January. Most districts across Greater Minnesota already resumed in-person learning for elementary students.
In St. Cloud, elementary-age students have been back in class for three weeks and also had in-person classes through most of the fall until an early November surge.
All students in the two main central Minnesota districts — Sartell and St. Cloud — return for in-person classes next week. Middle and high school kids have been on a hybrid model since September.
“Get the teachers vaccinated, keep working with the public, take the precautions, and get kids in school,” a mom of three in St. Cloud told Alpha News Monday. “We’ve had low transmission. Since it’s safe, they should go back. The younger ones really need it.”
State leaders and health experts all agree that data shows the benefits of reopening schools outweigh the small transmission risk.
“We’ve shown time and time again that schools can be operated safely with basic safety precautions,” former CDC director Tom Frieden recently told Axios.
As in many major cities, teachers unions oppose the plans to help students. Though research and science back the move, almost 95% of St. Paul teachers have “no confidence” in the district’s safety procedures, per the Pioneer Press.
The majority of staff in the district have cut lines and received their first shot of a vaccine. This did not satisfy unions.
“We’re heading back into buildings with a staff that is deeply concerned about the educational value of the plan going forward and the safety for themselves and their students,” union leader Nick Faber said last week.
Unlike the criminal-level debacle by Chicago’s teachers union, St. Paul teachers plan not to defy the district and continue working from home, since doing so would be illegal.
A father of two in Saint Paul was more blunt, emailing Alpha News, “All they do is point fingers. How can we expect people to have personal responsibility when school leaders advocate the opposite?”