Saint Paul Public Schools is planning to start bringing students back for full-time in-person learning on Monday, Feb. 1, starting with our youngest learners. Pre-K through 5th-grade students, including students who receive special education services in those grades, who wish to stay in distance learning for the remainder of the school year have been asked to enroll in the SPPS Virtual Learning School by Friday, Jan. 8.
Unfortunately, we lack answers to many important questions and don’t like the answers we’re hearing to others.
Will SPPS adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines such as requiring masks, frequent handwashing and 6 feet of physical distancing?
No. The Minnesota Department of Health strongly recommends 3 or more feet of distance between students. SPPS says they cannot guarantee that students will be more than 3 feet apart with their current plan and they can’t guarantee that teachers maintain the suggested 6 feet of distance.
Will SPPS ensure that ventilation systems are up to date in all schools?
No. The CDC and MDH recommend MERV13 filters in all buildings. SPPS says they cannot even guarantee MERV11 filters in every building. Most schools and classrooms do not have windows that can open, and many schools are not able to increase their outside air intake, which is the highest priority for safe HVAC operation. SPPS leaders are also not able to accomplish the recommended relative humidity level, making aerosolized particles even harder to filter.
When COVID cases inevitably arise in our schools, what is SPPS’s plan for tracking, tracing and quarantining when someone tests positive or has exposure to someone with COVID-19?
The district has indicated it will adhere to the CDC’s revised 10-day quarantine but no one in SPPS has made clear to staff or families whether quarantine will apply to groups of students, all students in a classroom, all students on a bus, etc., the procedure for exiting quarantine, or how students will access instruction while in isolation.
How will the district decide if it’s necessary to return to digital learning?
The district has not made clear what might trigger a return to virtual learning for all students despite the fact that a more contagious strain of COVID has now been detected in several states and some research suggests that this strain may be more harmful and infectious to our children.
We do know that when educators get sick or are forced to quarantine, buildings will close again due to staffing shortages. We’ve seen this happen in school districts across Minnesota already. This causes even more disruption in student learning in an already turbulent year.
Parents, teachers and administrators need honest, detailed information about how SPPS plans to ensure a safe (CDC/MDH-compliant) return to school. We want to be back in our buildings, together, but underdeveloped ideas and rushed deadlines cause undue stress and sow distrust.
Julia Burgess, Lori Lukasik and Betsy Lundsten of St. Paul are parents of St. Paul Public Schools students.
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