Senator Miller: Feedback on reopening schools this fall

Greetings from the district,

Over the last several weeks, I have received a significant number of questions, input, and feedback from parents, teachers, school administrators, and students from across the district regarding the fall school year.

Additionally, the Minnesota Department of Education recently released results of a parent survey showing that 65% of Minnesotans say they feel comfortable sending their children back to school, and 95% of those parents want their children in the classroom full time. In addition, 54% reported their experiences with distance learning have been “bad” or “very bad.” These results are consistent with the phone calls, emails, and conversations I have had with constituents.

Parents and guardians did the best they could with distance learning, but speaking from first-hand experience as a father of three school-aged children, it just wasn’t the same. We are fortunate to have highly skilled and trained teachers across the state and our kids deserve to have the opportunity to be in the classroom with these outstanding teachers as long as our schools have proper health and safety procedures in place. Distance learning also presented families with other challenges that should be considered, especially single parent and working families.

I believe the most important factor to consider is what the best course of action is for children and their education. The American Association of Pediatrics (AAP) says that we must have students back into classrooms if at all possible.

“The AAP strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a 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. Lengthy time away from school and associated interruption of supportive services often results in social isolation, making it difficult for schools to identify and address important learning deficits as well as child and adolescent physical or sexual abuse, substance use, depression, and suicidal ideation.”

The governor has said he will announce a decision about schools by the end of July. Given what we know, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach, I strongly encourage him to let local school districts make their own decisions about whether or not to reopen with children present in the classroom.

It is critically important to be cautious about the coronavirus, but the number of hospitalizations, ICU beds, and deaths in Minnesota continue to decrease from the peaks. The state is in a good position to get students back to school safely, if districts choose to do so. And if the situation gets worse, our schools have already proven that they can adapt quickly.