St. Paul district looks to make online school an option for all students this fall – Twin Cities

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With a month before the school year begins, St. Paul Public Schools is preparing to bring back online school as an option for all students, K-12.

Superintendent Joe Gothard will ask the school board next Tuesday to approve the decision, as well as a mask mandate for all staff and students going to school in-person. The moves come amid recent growth in coronavirus cases caused by the more contagious delta variant.

“We feel that this is an option that we can provide. It might be a little bit rushed on our part, but it’s a way that we can meet the needs of our community,” Gothard said of online school.

Last school year, the Minnesota Department of Education required all public schools to offer remote learning as an option. This year, that decision is up to each district.

St. Paul announced in January that it would create an online high school, opening this fall, with as many as 450 students. So far, Gothard said, only around 50 have enrolled.

“Kids want to be back in school,” he said.

Last school year, before vaccines were made available to people 12 and older, demand for remote learning in St. Paul was high.

In January, as the district was preparing to reopen after a surge in coronavirus cases, 37 percent of students — and half of Asian-American students — decided to continue learning from home.

In July, 23 percent of parents responding to a district survey said they were “very interested” in enrolling their children in virtual learning this school year, according to research director Stacey Gray Akyea.

Students who enroll will be expected to remain in the online school for at least a full semester.

Gothard said the district will ensure the teachers assigned to the online school are a good fit for the job.

“It won’t be that anyone will get to go into this environment because they don’t want to be in their school,” he said.

The expansion to a K-12 online school already is reflected on the district’s website, even though it’s yet to get board approval. However, a link to information about grades K-8 goes nowhere, and a “frequently asked questions” page is empty.