E-12 Committee passes bill to re-open schools with no safety plans

The E-12 Committee, on a party line vote, passed a bill that would re-open Minnesota public schools with no plans on how to do so and safeguard students, staff, and families. The bill passed to the floor with only Republican votes. It has no House companion bill.

The bill would remove the governor’s power to use his authority to close schools during peacetime emergencies, leaving that authority exclusively with school districts.

Restricting the ability of the governor to manage school re-openings in consultation with school districts and in partnership with the Department of Health is shortsighted, vindictive, and unsafe. This bill has broad implications not just for the current pandemic, but for future governors and their ability to handle unforeseen emergencies. It’s even possible this legislation would prevent governors from closing schools during snowstorms.

Senate Republicans have repeatedly failed to offer any substantive plans for school re-openings. While every school district’s situation is unique, measures to make sure students and staff are masked, in-person attendance is reduced to allow for social distancing, adequate contact tracing plans are in place in the event of a viral outbreak, and many other logistical challenges need to be addressed before schools reopen.

Seven special sessions were held in 2020 during which the Republican majority could have presented ideas on school reopening. Instead, no hearings were held, or bills discussed to address the many needs of schools during the pandemic. The governor has based all his decisions regarding school closures and reopening on public health data. He has consulted health experts and school officials to determine whether, when, and how to restart classroom instruction. In person school re-openings are not a simple undertaking right now—a suburban school was recently forced to revert to online learning after a COVID-19 outbreak in their transportation services.

This is a serious pandemic. Requiring 333 school districts to each have individual plans would not have been beneficial. Guidance from MDE, MDH, and the CDC have proven helpful as school board members and administrators are prepared to deal with educational issues but lack the appropriate resources and skills to navigate a public health emergency by themselves. (SF 2)