With thousands of Minnesota students still in remote learning, and school reopening guidance rumored in the coming days from the Walz administration, House Republicans held a news conference Thursday to push for legislation that would empower local school districts to make the best decisions for their districts and remove the Governor's ability to unilaterally keep schools closed. A similar proposal cleared its first committee stop in the Senate earlier this month, and could come up for a vote in the coming weeks.
"Getting kids safely back in the classroom has to be our top priority, and we can't have a situation where the Governor is able to stand in the way," said Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, a former educator and Republican lead on the House Education Finance Committee. "This bill simply restores power to our local school districts to make decisions locally. We want to empower parents, teachers, superintendents, and locally-elected school boards to plan and decide what works best for their community.
At Thursday's news conference, legislators, along with Stillwater School Board member Tina Riehle shared stories that districts felt pressured to comply with the Governor's executive orders, even if they felt that local conditions allowed for a safe return to the classroom.
"Local school districts are closest to their communities and always want what's in the best interest of students, parents, and teachers. There's no reason they should be looking over our shoulder worrying about consequences from the Governor and his agencies," added Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton, Republican Lead on the House Education Policy Committee.
Reps. Kresha and Erickson were joined by Reps. Patricia Mueller, R-Austin, and Bjorn Olson, R-Elmore, both of whom are teachers and have been in the classroom since distance learning began and have seen firsthand the impacts it has had on student learning.
“Classrooms are meant to be collaborative and social and interactive,” said Mueller, R-Austin, a 17-year teacher. “With distance learning, I saw an incredible drop in student engagement, especially among students where English is not their family’s first language. This is not how learning is supposed to take place. We need students in the classroom, learning with each other and from each other. Students need the opportunity to be back in classrooms, learning with their friends, instead of alone in front of a computer screen.”
"Our districts have felt pressure from the state to stay in line with the Governor's executive orders, even when local conditions didn't warrant it. School boards are working closely with local public health officials, and should be trusted to do what works best for their community," added Rep. Olson.