Senate Republicans attempt to restrict the governor’s authority over school safety

One of the Senate Republicans’ key priorities passed its first committee this week. The proposal would prohibit the governor from using peacetime emergency powers to alter school schedules, curtail school activities, or order schools closed. The bill is another attempt by Senate Republicans to restrict the ability of Governor Walz to effectively respond to the pandemic, specifically by prohibiting him from mitigating the spread of COVID-19 throughout our public schools. The governor certainly prioritizes getting students back to in-person learning and has repeatedly indicated that data on viral spread will determine how and when to safely return to classroom instruction in collaboration with local school districts.

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.

Public and charter schools have begun to reopen and are continuing to restart classroom instruction in varying capacities. As teachers and other staff are prioritized for vaccination, in-person instruction will hopefully become even safer. Nevertheless, there are significant and continued risks to in-person, indoor gatherings of any kind, and school districts will need to remain vigilant to keep students and staff safe until this pandemic is over.

Restricting the ability of the governor to manage school reopening in consultation with school districts and the Department of Health is shortsighted, vindictive, and unsafe. Also, this bill has broad implications not just for the current pandemic, but for future governors and their ability to handle unforeseen emergencies. (SF 2)