A Return to In-Person Learning

Ellery Koomen and Mia Kovan

We have been adapting to a new normal for more than a year, and now it is time for us to adjust once again. 

On February 8th, the Minneapolis Public School District began to welcome elementary students back into the classroom. With 40% of elementary school families choosing to enroll their children in in-person learning, we have been able to witness the successes and challenges that students and staff have experienced.

MPS Superintendent Ed Graff wrote to Minneapolis families about the return to in-person learning: “[the board has] erred on the side of health and safety and I absolutely think that is the right thing to have done. But with rates declining in Minneapolis, it is appropriate that we begin to think about and offer a dual path forward.”

On February 17th, Governor Walz announced that all Minnesota schools would be required to offer an in-person learning option for students grades 6-12 and Transition Plus by March 8th.  With concerns about health risks in addition to many students suffering academically, socially, and mentally, it was a hard decision to make.

Southwest originally planned on initiating a full in-person model, dubbed “Phase 5,” but has adapted to a 4 days a week model per the new regulations set by Minneapolis schools on March 12th, keeping Wednesdays more flexible. Those who have registered for in-person classes will attend school four days a week, with Southwest’s doors opening to students fourth quarter. Those who have decided to stay in distance learning will tune in to live classes, participating and engaging in classroom activities online.

As students start to return to the classroom, Southwest has taken many precautions to ensure the safety of students and staff. A statement made during the Minneapolis virtual Q&A outlined precautions being made related to airflow in schools:

“All MPS air filters have been changed to the highest filtration rate possible to reduce transmission of COVID-19 particles. Where possible, MERV 13-14 filters and high-efficiency particulate air filters have been placed in classrooms as needed. To bring in fresh, outside air, ventilation systems will run for two hours before school and will stay on for 2 hours after school is closed.”

We talked to Dr. Armstrong, one of the choir teachers at Southwest, about how the music department is preparing for in-person choir, band, and orchestra classes. In regards to the regulations that will be put in place, she says:

Our protocols are based off the Minnesota Department of Health safety guidelines, and a study from the University of Colorado, which is the primary source High Schools and Colleges/Universities across the country are adhering to… During our 120-minute class period, we will rotate between 3 different spaces. Each rotation will last 30 minutes. When our 30 minutes is up, we will vacate that space to another, and allow that space to have 30 minutes to air out (1 full air exchange). We will not return to a space until it has been given its 30 minute ‘clear out’.”

She goes on to say:

“…we as a department know we can provide a safe environment for our musicians to collaborate and learn together.”

Other precautions that Southwest will put into practice will include a minimum 3ft of distance between all students and at least 6ft between students and teachers, Face masks will be required at all times, an open campus to give students the option to eat outdoors, and seating charts both in the classroom and lunchroom will be heavily enforced and monitored giving the school the ability to trace possible COVID-19 outbreaks.

COVID-19 testing will be available to teachers, and students are encouraged to conduct self screenings for symptoms before attending school each day. If you have a fever, difficulty breathing, loss of taste or smell, muscle pain, nausea, chills, cough, runny nose, sore throat, headache, or fatigue then you should stay home. 

Identified positive COVID-19 cases will be individually and carefully evaluated.

Many families have asked whether students will be required to quarantine after spring break travel before attending in-person learning. Minneapolis Schools will not be monitoring this, but encourages students to follow CDC regulations and keep the safety of their teachers and peers in mind.

According to Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan, staff who have, or live with someone who has a high risk for COVID-19, can request to continue to work from home and the schools must allow them to do so. In addition to this, that district has made it clear that it is currently a top priority to get teachers vaccinated so that going back to school is as safe as possible.

The return to in-person learning makes for a complex transition and will require both schools and families to work together even more than before. While Southwest is excited to welcome Lakers back into the classroom, there remain doubts over how the situation might unfold.