Senator Westrom: Back to school plans “could lead to instability for kids”

(St. Paul, MN) – Back to school plans were announced by Governor Walz on Thursday. On its face, the administration says they are allowing initial decisions to be made locally, but in “collaboration with the state” – meaning there will be some red tape and bureaucracy imposed on our school districts as they work to provide the in-class education that is essential to our students. Once again, the Governor and Executive Branch have ignored working with the legislature, who has been calling to reopen schools and leave the decisions to the local school boards.

The Department of Health will monitor local cases on a two-week rolling average. The average, if it reaches a certain level, could cause statewide distance learning, once more. The metrics influencing potential statewide closure in the future are currently unclear, and ultimately Governor Walz and the education commissioner make final decisions under this scheme.

“The recent education announcements from the governor are ‘local control light,’” said Senator Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake). “Local districts have power over initial plans, but past that, the state will work off of unclear guidelines to decide their fate. Governor Walz still has full control and the education commissioner can veto local decisions at any time. The message is confusing for parents, teachers, and administrators, alike. Parents need clarity, students need to be in the classroom, and the Governor let them down on both fronts by not letting local control make final decisions for what is best and safe for their students and their community.

“These guidelines were a long time coming, but I don’t see a clear path forward for the state right now. Safe classroom education is essential, as are other areas of our economy and daily lives;  he threat of closure, with little explanation for schools that choose in-person education, could lead to extreme instability for our kids.”

Schools are also instructed to implement mask and social distancing standards for all in-person education, but further measures are left up to the discretion of the district. Districts are expected to publicize and send their plans for state approval soon.