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On order of Gov. Tim Walz, area school districts are extending their spring breaks in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19.

In an executive order March 15, Walz ordered schools statewide to close Wednesday, March 18, through Friday, March 27. The move is in part to allow schools to plan for the future, according to the order.

“I realize that schools are community hubs for children and families,” Walz wrote in the order. “School closures put burdens on children and families and create disproportionate impacts on different communities. For that reason, we must ensure that schools and school districts continue to provide support to Minnesota families, even while students are not in the classroom.”

The Anoka-Hennepin School District is currently on spring break. The order effectively extends that one week.

Staff and faculty are expected to report as usual March 23 to finalize plans for distance learning and district operations, which will begin March 30.

Families with children in grades six through 12 are asked to complete a brief survey on technology resources and internet access. The results will be used to assess the district’s approach to distance learning. Students in fifth grade or below will not require digital devices to complete learning plans, according to the district.

Early childhood special education home visits are canceled until March 27, and the Family Welcome Center closed March 16.

Gov. Walz also directed schools to maintain a few services to help reduce the impact of closures on vulnerable populations and emergency responders.

One directive was for school districts to provide child care for families of health care workers and emergency personnel with students 12 or younger. Qualifying children will be cared for at no cost March 23 to March 27.

A form for qualified families was included in a communication to all families, and is due by noon on March 18.

Walz also directed schools to provide support for disproportionately impacted families, including families with low income or who are experiencing homelessness. Districts are expected to provide meals for those children.

The Anoka-Hennepin School District is finalizing a plan to provide meals as ordered by the state. Service will begin no later than March 30.

All community education programs are closed through March 27. Adventures Plus school-age care is closed March 18-27. All other school activities, events and rentals are canceled.

Families may come to school to pick up medications and personal items from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, March 23, and 7:30 a.m. and 4 p.m. Tuesday, March 24.

District employees are asked to follow instructions of their health care providers. They are required to report illness-related absences as normal, according to the district.

Employees who go into isolation and don’t have enough sick leave or vacation time to cover the whole period must take unpaid time off, according to the district. They are advised to review working agreement language, which can be found online, to learn more about available sick leave time.

Unless the Legislature intervenes, the district is unable to pay employees who do not have the allotted sick time, according to the district.

Districts will not be financially penalized for the closure. Walz’ order directs the Commissioner of Education to disregard if instruction was provided during this period when calculating school funding. The order also reduces the minimum days and hours of instruction required for schools by the equivalent hours of the closure period.

A statewide hotline for school and child care questions has been set up at 651-297-1304 or 1-800-657-3504. A hotline for health questions is available at 651-201-3920 or 1-800-657-3903. Both lines are open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., according to the Minnesota Department of Health’s website.

The Governor’s Office urges Minnesotans to continue following the Minnesota Department of Health’s community mitigation strategies during this temporary closure to prevent the spread of COVID-19 while students are not in school.

Other area districts

Columbia Heights Public Schools are closed March 16-27 to plan for distance learning.

Fridley Public Schools canceled school March 16-17 along with Tiger Club and child care. Fridley students are scheduled to return March 30, following spring break.

All schools, activities and programs are closed in the Spring Lake Park School District until March 27. The district will use the time to plan for potential long-term plans for distance learning.

SLP students are expected to return to school or begin distance learning using school-issued iPads March 30. The district is providing child care for health care workers and first responders already and is finalizing meal delivery, according to a statement from Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg.

St. Francis Public Schools did not reopen following last week’s spring break. All activities and transportation are canceled, and Kids Connection will be closed.

Note: The situation regarding the COVID-19 outbreak can change rapidly. Get the latest information and recommendations from Anoka County at anokacounty.us, from the Minnesota Department of Health at tinyurl.com/mdh-covid19, and from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at cdc.gov/coronavirus.

connor.cummiskey@ecm-inc.com

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