Senate approves bill to limit governor’s authority to close schools using emergency powers

The Minnesota Senate today approved a bipartisan bill to protect students’ right to a great education at all times. The legislation, Senate File 2, authorizes local public schools to make their own decisions regarding how they conduct student instruction during a pandemic or any other emergency. 

“This is about doing what is best for students,” said Sen. Carla Nelson (R-Rochester), the bill’s author. “Nearly a year’s worth of valuable learning was squandered by ignoring mounting evidence that schools can open safely; the effect that has had on students, particularly our most vulnerable students, has been heartbreaking. We have to protect kids from ever having to endure this again. The decisions about how to conduct education safely during an emergency should not be made from the governor’s office. It should come from CDC guidelines, local school boards, and community leaders who have firsthand knowledge of their students’ needs.

The bill says the governor may not use peacetime emergency powers to issue any order or to authorize the commissioner of education to alter school schedules, curtail school activities, or order schools closed. The governor may “advise and consult with school leaders regarding any action needed for emergency management purposes.”

Gov. Walz’s executive orders closing schools have been among his most questioned and controversial orders of the outbreak.

There is conclusive evidence, including research from the CDC, that schools pose minimal risk in spreading the coronavirus. A fall Reuters report that studied 191 countries also found no clear link between school reopenings and coronavirus surges. In addition, Axios looked at several studies and found schools are not Covid hotspots, and the Atlantic Magazine wrote that kids are not superspreaders and that it’s time to reopen schools. The New York Times reported on evidence that schools, especially elementary schools, are not “stoking community transmission.”

There is also widespread agreement about the impact distance learning is having on students:

  • The American Association of Pediatrics has said, “The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with the goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020.” 
  • UNICEF has warned of a ‘lost generation’ and found school closures are ineffective. “Even with the promise of a vaccine on the horizon, a new report by UNICEF, the United Nations agency for children, warned that “the future of an entire generation is at risk,” with the threat to children increasing. Studies cited in the report showed “no consistent association between school reopening status and COVID-19 infection rates.

Watch Sen. Nelson discuss the bill in a press conference before taking it up on the floor of the senate.