With Wisconsin and South Dakota both closing their schools, absenteeism in Minnesota schools increasing, the number of COVID-19 cases rising by 14 to 35 overnight Saturday, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz called for schools in the state to close for the next eight to 10 days. He made the announcement during a 10 a.m. Sunday press conference.
School administrators and teachers are to use those days to implement a local plan for continuing to provide an education for students in the coming days, and possibly weeks. Schools can close as early as Monday, but must be closed by Wednesday and remained closed through Friday, March 27.
The West Central Area School Board met Sunday afternoon. All three buildings will be closed from Wednesday, March 18 through Friday March 27. During that time teachers, administrators and staff will develop a plan to implement long-distance learning for all grade levels, in case the state says schools will remain closed past March 30.
Also the school has developed a plan to get free meals to all students, delivered from the schools, either via regular bus routes, or to drop off points in each community. This meal plan will kick off on Wednesday.
Surveys were sent out by email Sunday night, and paper surveys will sent home to students on Monday.
The State of Minnesota has also provided a list of essential personnel, such as First Responders, medical personnel, firemen, law enforcement, that the school will provide day care for their young children in all three buildings, also starting on Wednesday.
The Ashby Public Schools sent out a phone message to parents with much the same information as WCA. The school will be closed from March 18 through March 27, the school will be providing day care for essential personnel and meals for those who need, or want them. The district is working out plans on how to deliver meals at this time and will notify parents by Tuesday.
Rick Bleichner, Superintendent of Herman-Norcross Schools, said it has been an exhausting couple of days, with things changing very fast. Governor Waltz held a conference call with Minnesota superintendents early Sunday morning, and the school boards and administrations went immediately to work.
The H-N school board and administration has decided to close their school on Tuesday to start working on their long-distance learning plan. They also will be providing day care for essential health care personnel and school employees. Their meal plan will resort to the school’s summer meal plan, featuring brown bag lunches, most likely delivered to students. While the day care provision will be starting this week, there are still some kinks to be worked out on the meal deliveries before H-N can announce with certainty what will happen.
“Meanwhile, it is imperative that everyone practice good personal hygiene so we can get through this,” Bleichner said
At a news conference Saturday, Walz had said that schools would remain open in Minnesota, but he said he would continue to consult with other governors, health officials, and school officials before making the decision to temporarily close Minnesota schools. Based on the current spread of the highly contagious coronavirus, it is suspected schools will remain closed beyond March 27.
“My top priority as governor is the safety of Minnesotans. As a former teacher, and father of two teenage kids, I’m especially focused on the safety of our children,” Walz said in a news release just prior to the press conference.
“I am ordering the temporary closure of schools so educators can make plans to provide a safe learning environment for all Minnesota students during this pandemic. Closing schools is never an easy decision, but we need to make sure we have plans in place to educate and feed our kids regardless of what’s to come,” he said.
The news comes as Walz said Minnesota’s number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 35 on Sunday, up from 14 on Friday and 21 on Saturday.
Walz’s said his order allows “for school administrators and teachers to make long-term plans for the continuity of education and essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
It “requires schools to provide care for elementary-age children of health care professionals, first responders, and other emergency workers” so those individuals can stay on the job. It also “makes provisions for the continuity of mental health services and requires schools to continue providing meals to students in need.”
The decision affects more than 850,000 K-12 students and more than 135,000 teachers and staff in public K-12 schools across the state, Minnesota Public Radio reported.
Walz had said calling off school was a tough call because closing schools would create hardship for parents and take kids out of an environment where some depend on meals and daytime care.
There also were concerns such a move could draw down the number of available nurses and other professional medical staff who’d need to stay home with their kids if schools were shut.
COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has now been confirmed in Washington and Waseca counties, the state health department reported. Other counties with confirmed cases include Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Olmsted, Ramsey, Renville, Stearns and Wright.
“While most have an identified source of exposure, with the limitations that we’ve discussed on testing capacity nationwide, there’s just much we don’t know about the potential degree of community transmission in Minnesota,” Minnesota Department of Health Commissioners Jan Malcolm said, adding, most of the cases have not required hospitalization.
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