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Phase 2: Distance Learning with student supports at school buildings

On July 30, Governor Walz announced his recommendation to give districts flexibility in deciding whether to provide in-person learning or distance learning, or a combination of both (hybrid). To guide decision making, the Governor recommended school districts reopen school buildings and provide in-person learning once the county they are located in (Hennepin County for MPS) has fewer than 10 COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents over a 14-day period. He recommended counties with more than 50 cases per 10,000 residents be fully remote.

Because Hennepin County has had more than 50 cases per 10,000 residents for the first part of JulyMPS will begin the school year the week of Sept. 8 with distance learning for all grades. However, we also will be offering tutoring, technology and mental health supports in some school buildings while we remain in distance learning. We will share more information on these opportunities as they become available.

MPS is planning a phased-in approach to providing in-person learning that continually takes into account how widespread COVID-19 is in our community, as well as the operational success of our current learning model, and the health and attendance of staff and students. As COVID-19 numbers begin to decline significantly, we will phase in a hybrid model that has students attending schools a few days a week and then taking part in distance learning on the other days.

MPS weighed many factors to determine how best to safely and effectively deliver instruction to students when school resumes in September. The decision to hold off on a hybrid model for the school year is based on prioritizing the health and safety of students, families and staff.

According to a staff and community survey, more than 40% of staff and families are not yet comfortable with in-person learning, making effective implementation of a hybrid difficult. With that in mind, we've outlined a phased-in approach (see MPS 5 Phases to Safe Learning) for a hybrid model that will get implemented as COVID-19 cases steadily decline.

In addition, the needs and capacity of every district are different. At MPS, we have 15 schools where it is not possible to maintain social distancing even when only half their students are present. Another 14 schools would have to use gyms, lunchrooms and auditoriums to allow for social distancing. Combined, that's nearly 40% of our buildings where social distancing is not possible or would be extremely challenging to maintain.

We also respect that many of our staff will be unable to report in person due to being in a high-risk category. Additionally, we don't have enough buses and drivers to accommodate the additional bus routes needed to keep students socially distant on the bus. For years, MPS has had a shortage of bus drivers even without the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Being able to advance to a Phase 3 or Phase 4 hybrid model will involve a lot of care and consideration to maintain social distancing and the ability for MPS to build up its staffing capacity, systems and infrastructure.

While this option was considered, it is difficult to equitably identify which students are struggling academically. We are considering a phased approach to returning to in-person learning where students with the greatest needs would return to school buildings likely on a rotating schedule (Phase 3). Some considerations when determining which students have the greatest needs may be our students receiving special education services, homeless and highly mobile students, English language learners, and those students whose most recent Formative Assessment System for Teachers (FAST)assessment indicated the need for greater supports.

It's not possible to predict when it will be safe enough for students to return to school buildings. MPS will continue to consult national and local health officials to ensure our decision to provide in-person learning is done when there is minimal risk of catching COVID-19 and spreading it in the community.

In a survey with families, most (36%) said they preferred a hybrid model that provided some in-person learning combined with distance learning. This was followed by 30% of families preferring distance learning and 24% preferring a full return to in-person learning; 9% were undecided about their preference.

In a staff survey given over the summer, 84% reported they "will be able to return and perform my job in-person or partially in-person" or "will be able to return and perform my job in-person or partially in-person with some additional support due to a medical condition."

Another question asked "How comfortable will you be to return to work in-person for the fall semester (with safety precautions in place related to COVID-19) if allowed by the governor?" Those responders (n = 4,329) rated their comfort level on a 5-point scale from "1 = very uncomfortable" to "5 = very comfortable." The majority (58%) of responders said they would not feel comfortable returning to buildings in the fall. The answers were as follows:

  • 1 = 1,505 (35%) Very uncomfortable
  • 2 = 983 (23%
  • 3 = 939 (22%)
  • 4 = 504 (12%)
  • 5 = 398 (9%) Very comfortable

The impact of distance learning on families has been a major consideration in our decision. We know it's been challenging for parents to meet the demands of working at home while helping their children with distance learning. Many of our staff are parents as well and are experiencing the same struggles as our working families. We understand the dilemma.

But we also know that with the resurgence of COVID-19 over the summer in many states that have loosened or never implemented sufficient protective protocols, if we don't proceed with the utmost caution, we could contribute to a comparable resurgence in our community. Everyone's health and safety is our top priority.

Again, distance learning will look much different than it did last spring with daily, meaningful interactions with students, teachers, and classmates, which will do much to keep students engaged and self directed in learning during the school day.

"Regular" distance learning for a student is learning for the length of a typical school day which is usually about six hours at MPS. On the other hand, homebound instruction is usually one hour a day or as determined by the Special Education IEP team and provided one-to-one by a tutor who is a licensed teacher. While the curriculum may be the same as that used by the student's usual class, it is adapted and individualized to meet the student's progress needs so they can keep pace despite the much shorter instruction time.

Yes. If a student is unable to participate with their class in distance learning activities because of medical or other issues, the student's IEP team will still write a homebound (Federal Setting 8) IEP. There are many reasons why a student may be unable to participate in regular distance learning activities such as a physical or mental illness; not enough stamina to engage in learning activities for the length of a regular school day; or may be unable to keep up with their regular school activity. Note: An outside service provider will need to document their recommendation that the student receive homebound services.

Most changes to school programs under the CDD will be implemented as scheduled ing with next school year in September 2021. We are hoping to move up the mental health enhancements planned for the following year to assist students and families dealing with the difficulties of this pandemic. To find out what your school options are, you can use the online database based on your home address:

For questions about your school options, contact our Student Placement at 612.668.1840