Minnesota's Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 school year

Dear Winona Area Public Schools families, 

Earlier today, Gov. Tim Walz, in partnership with the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health, unveiled “Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan,” the roadmap for districts across the state to follow for the 2020-21 school year. 

The plan will guide Winona Area Public Schools and other districts across the state to make localized decisions using data, facts and expertise from local and state experts that prioritizes the health and safety of students and staff amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

What does this mean for the first day of school on Tuesday, Sept. 8? At this point, we cannot say for sure. We know how disappointing, frustrating and scary that can be for families who were looking forward to a final decision to begin planning for the fall. 

But the good news is that the desired outcome of many — to have students safely back in school — is a strong possibility for the 2020-21 school year.

Safe Learning Model

Here are some highlights of the plan: 

  • MDH will use the bi-weekly positive case rate from counties to determine a base learning model for public schools for each individual county. The data can be seen here: https://www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/stats/wschool.pdf
  • MDE, MDH, regional service cooperatives and local public health officials are creating Regional Support Teams to support the plans we put together to keep our students and staff safe and meet MDH requirements needed for the recommended learning model. 
  • Gov. Walz is making $430 million available to school districts to help cover operational costs such as cleaning supplies, technology needs, mental health supports and others boosts to student, family and educator support. This includes:
    • Cloth face coverings for every student and staff member
    • Face shields for teachers
    • One free COVID-19 saliva test for educators

Our district administrative team has been busy throughout the summer in putting together comprehensive plans for three learning models: in-person, distance learning and a hybrid. The announcement Thursday will help us fill in the gaps of those plans and ultimately lead us on a path to announcing which one we will utilize to begin the 2020-21 school year.

We plan to present the progress on these plans at the Thursday, Aug. 6 meeting of the Winona Area Public Schools Board of Education. 

As we have mentioned before, if any family is not comfortable sending their student(s) to school for the 2020-21 school year, distance learning will remain an option for them. Also, as we have come to expect the unexpected with the COVID-19 pandemic, we know that our learning and teaching plans will need to remain flexible in the event rising local case counts force us into another model. 

In today’s announcement, the governor is encouraging communities to follow the recommended mitigation strategies of wearing your mask in public, adhering to physical distancing guidelines and saying home when sick.

Thank you for your patience, your support and your empathy. We will continue to need it as we develop these plans to meet the needs of all of our students, our staff and our community. 

Dr. Annette K. Freiheit
Winona Area Public Schools

P.S. The Minnesota Department of Education put together a Frequently Asked Questions page on its website. Access it by clicking here.