Watch CBS News

Parents Demand More Distance Learning Options As COVID Cases Rise Ahead Of School Year

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- COVID-19 cases are expected to surge over the next two weeks, thanks to easily-transmissible Delta variant.

Two-thirds of Minnesota is now considered high or substantial risk of spreading the virus.

The College of Saint Benedict and Saint John's University are requiring all students and staff to be vaccinated before returning to campus. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says teenagers and kids account for one in five new cases. Pediatricians believe kids are more susceptible to this strain.

Doctors don't expect a vaccine for kids under 12 to be available until this winter. In the meantime, they recommend children wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands.

While teachers prepare their classrooms for in-student learning, some of the state's largest districts -- like St. Paul and Anoka-Hennepin -- will also offer some sort of virtual learning option. But WCCO learned Wednesday that it's not a state requirement to do so.

Theresa Swanlund, a mother of four from Hastings, reached out to WCCO's Erin Hassanzadeh Wednesday, saying her school is forcing her to make a tough decision.

"I've just been kind of watching and waiting and hoping," Swanlund said.

School starts in a few weeks, but Swanlund doesn't know if her 6 and 9 year olds with underlying health conditions will be going back.

"They're not offering any kind of online option at all, so yeah, I don't know what I'm going to do," Swanlund said.

She's not alone. A group of parents at St. Croix Preparatory Academy -- a K-12 charter school in Stillwater -- says they're scared to send their unvaccinated or immunocompromised children back in-person, and tell us that the school has made it clear: masking will be optional and there's no plan to offer a distance learning option at this time.

WCCO spoke Wednesday with Minnesota Department of Education Assistant Commissioner Stephanie Graff.

"[Distance learning is] not required. What we know is we made this option available to school districts," Graff said. "Those really are local decisions that need to be made."

With no peacetime emergency or executive order in place, decisions will be made district-by-district and school-by-school.

"We also know that we are entering a year that we may need to adapt," Graff said.

New Code Academy is Bloomington Public School's online K-12 option that's open to students across the state, at no extra cost. Rebecca Brower is New Code's assistant principal.

"As people look for options, if they're not comfortable with their kiddos going back face-to-face, we've been getting some interest from people around the state looking for an online option," Brower said.

She said roughly 13% of the 400 students enrolled are from other parts of metro, looking for a solution just like Theresa Swanlund.

"I guess I'm just kind of stuck because what do you do? Things are getting worse and you can't send your kids off to a dangerous situation," Swanlund said.

There's still time and space to enroll in the New Code Academy. Students who choose to enroll can participate in extracurriculars at Bloomington Public Schools.

Graff recommends talking with your school or district before exploring out-of-district options. You can also contact the Minnesota Department of Education if you are unable to find a solution within your district or school.

St. Croix Preparatory charter school gave WCCO this statement Wednesday evening: "Given the constant changes in COVID-19 cases and data and recommendations from MDH and MDE, SCPA will consider the learning options available for our students."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.