Edina’s public elementary schools will begin opening in mid-January following the lifting of some statewide COVID-19 restrictions.

After Gov. Tim Walz announced this month that in-person learning could resume in elementary schools, the Edina Public Schools system is moving to bring students back to class. The transition will be a staggered approach, with students in kindergarten through grade 2 set to begin in-person learning Monday, Jan. 25, while students in grades 3-5 will begin Monday, Feb. 8.

Prior to the district’s official decision to return to in-person learning, the Edina School Board discussed the prospect at a Dec. 21 work session prior to superintendent John Schultz’s final decision. All boardmembers voiced general support for the plan.

“We are on a downward trajectory (in COVID-19 cases),” said Bloomington Public Health’s Nick Kelley, who has been an advisor to the district. “I’m optimistic that it will continue with the governor’s new guidance. And the direction is, it’s positive. So I’m increasingly confident the closer we get to mid-January, we’re going to be in a much better place with COVID-19 transmission levels in the community.”

Kelley added that based on research, classrooms are fairly safe in terms of virus transmission.

The Edina school district shifted to distance learning in November after COVID-19 cases began rising exponentially in the city, county and state. The board expressed hesitation in moving students in kindergarten through grade 2 to virtual learning, but ultimately made the decision to shift them as well.

Students in grades 6-12 will continue with distance learning for the time being. Younger learners, who may be more impacted in their learning, are being prioritized, according to board documents.

The district still indicates a desire to bring back students in grades 6-12 at a later date.

For elementary students, the move will include a couple of weeks of transition time. During this period, in-person teaching will be four days per week, with Wednesday continuing as a day for asynchronous student learning and staff planning. Students will later shift to in-person learning for five days per week, according to board documents.

This period will allow for gradual adjustment to the classroom, as routines are re-established and students are reminded of safety protocols.

Edina families will be able to choose whether to send their students back to class in-person or to use Edina Virtual Academy.

Under the new plan, students who were in separate cohorts will now be together in one class with their teacher. They will stay in their designated classrooms throughout the entire school day, including for meals, except for during physical education class and recess.

The district will also follow new guidance from the state that allows for as little as 3 feet of physical distancing in the classroom.

In order to be able to shift back to in-person learning, mitigation strategies must also be implemented, according to Walz’s announcement. One of these strategies is on-site staff COVID-19 testing every other week. The tests, which are voluntary, are being supplied to the schools by the state.

Students who need site-based special education programs will also return to school in-person.

The new in-person model will be contingent on staffing levels and the extent of COVID-19 community spread.

Schultz noted that the greater community needs to help keep transmission low in order to keep students in school.

“We really need our community to help out with masking up and maintaining that social distance so we can keep the virus under check (and) so we can have the kids here in person,” he said. “It does make a difference.”

– Follow Caitlin Anderson on Twitter @EdinaSunCurrent

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