St. Paul superintendent calls for full-time distance learning this fall; other districts pick hybrid model

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St. Paul Public Schools has permission from the state to reopen its schools in September, but Superintendent Joe Gothard is calling for continued distance learning at all grade levels.

“The reason we’re here tonight is we do not feel we’re ready to ensure safety for our students and staff coming back,” Gothard told reporters Thursday.

The decision aligns St. Paul with the Minneapolis school district, which announced earlier this week it was starting with full-time distance learning.

Meanwhile, three large school districts said Thursday that they’ll start with a hybrid schedule, while several others said they need more time to decide.

The St. Paul school board has a series of special meetings scheduled Saturday through Monday where they’ll discuss plans for the upcoming school year.

Gothard said he hopes to establish centers across the city where students can get in-person help with distance learning. And he promised remote instruction will work better than it did in the spring, when the coronavirus pandemic forced school buildings to close.

If St. Paul moves to a hybrid or full in-person schedule later in the year, that transition is likely to take place after the first quarter or semester.

But Gothard said the district would “lose efficiencies” under a hybrid model, and it’d be a lot to manage. If they do switch to a hybrid model at some point, that wouldn’t necessarily mean every student would come back to school at once, he said.

The decision figures to upset at least a third of the district’s families. In a recent district survey, 31 percent of respondents said they would not choose distance learning over in-person instruction if given the choice; another 43 percent were undecided, while 26 percent favored distance learning.

Mayor Melvin Carter said Thursday he supports Gothard’s decision, saying on Twitter that “the health of our St. Paul children, families, teachers, and school workers remains our top priority.”

WALZ GUIDANCE

Under guidance issued Thursday by Gov. Tim Walz, schools are to consider a full return to in-person instruction if their county has fewer than 10 new cases per 10,000 residents over the latest 14-day period.

Ramsey County’s current new case rate is 16.5 per 10,000 residents. That suggests the risk of reopening is low enough that St. Paul elementary schools could safely offer in-person instruction while middle and high schoolers — who are more likely to spread the virus — should only go part-time to allow for social distancing.

New case rates, though, are just one of many factors schools should consider, Walz said.

OTHER DISTRICTS

Here’s what other large Minnesota districts say about starting the school year:

  • Rosemount – Apple Valley – Eagan will start with a hybrid model in which students go to school in-person either Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays.
  • Stillwater Area also plans to use a hybrid schedule.
  • Mounds View is using a hybrid schedule, too. Students will be in school buildings two days a week, or more “based on individual learning needs.” Families will be asked to decide next week between hybrid and distance learning.
  • Anoka-Hennepin, the state’s largest district, did not offer a timeline for its decision. Parents will be asked Monday to indicate their preference.
  • Roseville Area is announcing its decision Friday afternoon.
  • South Washington County will announce Monday.
  • Wayzata will announce Wednesday.
  • Burnsville-Savage-Eagan will announce Thursday.
  • Rochester will announce sometime next week.
  • Elk River said it wants to offer in-person instruction but county health data doesn’t support that, so they won’t make a decision till Aug. 21.

Under orders from the state, districts must offer distance learning even if they’re open for in-person instruction.