ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on Monday, July 20, pushed forward a message to Gov. Tim Walz that schools should decide whether students return for in-person instruction this fall.
Senators on Monday advanced a resolution urging Walz not to bring executive orders affecting public schools, and in turn, potentially limiting in-classroom learning due to the threat of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. The chamber on a 37-30 vote approved the measure that doesn't have the force of law but sends a message to the Walz administration about the GOP-led Senate's priorities.
The Democratic-controlled House of Representatives did not indicate it would take up the resolution Monday afternoon.
Senators also took up a proposal to spend $25 million in federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act funds to help schools bring on experts to prepare them to bring people back into the classroom and to stock up on needed personal protective equipment. That measure didn't get the votes it needed to bypass a committee hearing.
State health and education officials are weighing how students should take up classes in the next academic year and have laid out options for full-time in-classroom learning, distance learning and a combination of the two. They are set to announce their directives for the 2020-2021 school year later this month. Meanwhile, families and schools have been waiting for direction to help plan for their school year.
The Minnesota Department of Health on Monday reported 922 new COVID-19 cases and the state's first death of a child from the illness. Health officials said a nine-month-old baby had perished from the illness.
GOP lawmakers who brought the measures said the steps were essential to getting students safely back into schools and bringing decisions about reopening to local district officials, rather than relying on a "one-size-fits-all policy."
"We know that schools are essential, schools are the great equalizer," Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, said. "There is no one solution, our schools are extremely diverse and different as are the communities, their students and their parents and their staff. And we need to allow them to make that local decision. It shouldn't be left to the governor to unilaterally make that important decision."
Democrats in the Senate opposed the measures and said while spending time is critical for students, sending children, teachers and support staff back to schools without substantial health and safety measures in place could pose serious health risks amid the pandemic.
"The coronavirus doesn't know where School District 1 ends and School District 2 begins, the coronavirus doesn't know where School District 74 and 75 begins. We owe it to those children to keep them safe," Sen. Steve Cwodzinski, D-Eden Prairie, said. "That is a duty that is higher than Article 13 (in the Minnesota Constitution)."
Two Democrats, Sens. Kent Eken, D-Twin Valley, and Dan Sparks, D-Austin, voted with the chamber's Republican members in support of the proposal.
Education Minnesota, the state's largest teachers' union, has called for a plan that accounts for the health and safety of students and teachers. And the group said significant investments would be needed to provide safety measures for all those that could be going back to school.