June 3, 2020

Stevens County Times

Your spot for community news in Stevens County, Minnesota

Governor orders school closures during pandemic

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 remain closed through Friday, March 27.

Morris Area Schools Supt. Troy Ferguson said Sunday that this is new territory for the district. He said he wants parents to remain calm and purposeful in following the plans that will be put in effect this week.

The staff will be looking for ways to provide equitable learning for all students and it will take all staff to make this plan, Ferguson said. He added that over the next two weeks they will be making a plan for long-term distance learning in case the school closure is extended beyond March 27. 

“We will continue to follow the directive of the governor and the guidance of the experts of the virus,” Ferguson stated.

Hancock Prin. Tim Pahl said this will be a learning experience for everybody. The school will be making plans Monday night at the regular school board meeting. 

The board and administration may discuss teachers putting lessons on the web sites and for younger students having packets that children will work on and that parents sign off on. 

Pahl also pointed out that part of Walz’s speech involved serving meals to all students and providing day care for children of law enforcement or emergency personnel. The school will be sending out alerts for notification on changes and plans, sending home written notices with students and also posting on their web site

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 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 healthcare 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 Commissioner Jan Malcolm said. “As I’ve said before, it’s a matter of when, not if, we will have community spread. And how effectively we can slow down and spread out the growth of this disease in our communities is the key.”

Malcolm said most of the cases have not required hospitalization.

Reed Anfinson