E-12 Committee hear about schools re-opening; no specific plans outlined

The Senate’s E-12 Committee held an unofficial meeting this week. They heard about schools re-opening but did not discuss any concrete plans for bringing Minnesota students back into the classroom.

The meeting focused mostly on parents discussing the difficulties of distance learning, especially for students with learning disabilities, and their desires to have their schools re-open. A few school board members discussed their challenges, and the Minnesota Parents Union was represented by a number of the presenters. There were no teachers, school staff, or administration presenters although representatives from the Education Department are slated to testify next week and discuss the MDE Safe Learning Plan. Another presenter said they represented the Let Them Learn group that they claimed has 6,000 members. The group only has a private Facebook page with 6,000 followers.

Governor Walz announced a phased school re-opening plan last month; it was not mentioned during the meeting. Elementary schools can bring students back to the classroom on January 18, and youth sports will begin January 11.

Many parents discussed the mental health challenges of the pandemic, and two doctors spoke to the committee, including former senator Dr. Scott Jensen who reiterated his beliefs that young children don’t spread the coronavirus and masks will not help student athletes.

Some of the parents who testified blamed the school issues on the teachers’ union or the St. Paul schoolteachers’ strike of last winter. The first person to testify mentioned the need for “school choice” and the that state money should follow the student. A few parents suggested that parents should get “paid back” the state funds that were appropriated to schools during the pandemic because the schools didn’t do their jobs.

There were no hearings held over the summer and fall to discuss distance learning or school re-opening plans, and attempts to provide funds to offset declining enrollment numbers for schools in November and December hit brick walls from the Senate committee chair.