Edina School District administrators are meeting to determine what form of instruction they will implement this fall in light of the state's new guidance to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Minnesota's Safe Learning Plan, released Thursday, provides flexibility for the upcoming academic year based on counties' infection rates and the age of learners. Edina administrators expect to be in meetings through Monday to determine how students will go back to school in September, according to Mary Woitte, director of communications for Edina Schools.

At the direction of Gov. Tim Walz, Administrators across the state have already spent the summer preparing three potential learning plans: in-person, distance, or a hybrid approach that would combine those two models. The new state guidance leaves room for all three modes to be deployed at various times throughout the school year.

Which learning model is used at any given time will depend on how many virus cases per 10,000 people have been reported over a 14-day period in the county. The parameters also take into account the age of learners, based on research showing that transmission of the novel coronavirus is more limited in younger children. Also informing the age-based approach is the wisdom that younger learners are the ones most in need of in-person instruction.

Here are the state's parameters for which learning model districts should implement, based on the number of cases reported per 10,000 people over a given 14-day period:

• 0-9 cases – In-person learning

• 10-19 cases – In-person learning for elementary students, hybrid learning for secondary students (grades 6-12)

• 20-29 cases – Hybrid learning for all

• 30-49 cases – Hybrid learning for elementary students, distance learning for secondary students

• 50-plus – Distance learning for all

Based on the most recent 14-day period reported by the Minnesota Department of Health, Hennepin County had about 21 cases per 10,000 people, meaning Edina would open under the hybrid-for-all model if school were to start today.

Schools in Minnesota spent the last two months of the previous school year learning under the distance learning model, which involves online instruction while students stay at home. A hybrid approach would be new, and make for a “terribly complex model,”

Edina Assistant Superintendent Randy Smasal said during a July 13 school board meeting.

A hybrid model, he explained, would involve half the students being in the physical classroom at any given time. Students would attend school with the same cohort for the duration of the health threat, creating “bubbles” that would, in theory, help contain the virus.

Shifts in learning models could be required as the virus ebbs and flows. “Throughout the school year, we will need to be flexible and adapt with the fluid nature of this pandemic,” Walz wrote in a letter announcing the state-wide learning plan.

Despite the plan's specific parameters, it suggests schools will have some leeway in determining their respective learning models. Districts wishing to enact more stringent restrictions than called for by the parameters for will have to notify the education commissioner within 24-hours of beginning the new model. Districts that plan to institute less strict measures than those dictated by case numbers will have to consult with local public health officials, MDH and MDE.

Edina administrators have said a distance learning option will be open to all families, an allowance the state will now require anyway. The state is also mandating that school employees with health concerns be allowed to work remotely to the extent possible.

Walz noted that the state will dispense more than $400 million to help schools adapt to the virus threat. Face coverings for all students and staff will also be provided.

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