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Minnesota School Districts Grapple With COVID Surge And Bus Driver Shortages

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Thousands of students in Minnesota's third largest school district spent Monday at home. Minneapolis public schools moved to online learning citing the cold weather and COVID-19.

It's the perfect storm of COVID, cold, and bus driver shortages leaving a cloud of uncertainty over Minnesota's largest school districts.

"My concern is the unknown of having to go to distance learning at the drop of a hat," Hopkins parent Chris Haar said.

Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals, the union representing Minneapolis teachers said they've been pushing for an online option for a while.

"Staffing is at a dangerously low level, COVID spread is rampant and our students aren't getting the education they deserve," union President Greta Callahan said.

In the state's largest district, Anoka-Hennepin, the district has stated from the start of the year that providing in-person instruction is our goal. Any move to distance learning would be the last resort and made only after all options to provide in-person learning have been exhausted, officials said Monday.

Transportation Director Keith Paulson said in 38 year career this year is the most challenging, with the district down more than 30 drivers.

He said they're looking at all options, altering routes, and trying to notify families as early as possible about delays

"We understand and that's our mission to get kids to and from school safely every day," Paulson said.

All three of Chris Harr's kids in Hopkins Public Schools and a St. Paul Charter were notified of potential covid exposures the third day back from winter break. Since then, they've switched to N-95 masks.

"We need to do what's best for keeping the kids in the classroom to the extent we can," Haar said.

Wayzata Schools announced Monday they are changing their quarantine guidelines for students and staff who test positive to match those put out by the CDC. They can return to school in 5 days, instead of 10, if they do not have any symptoms.

St. Paul Public Schools is looking at doing the same.

"We are looking to adopt the CDC guidelines that have recently changed that would allow us to potentially have students and staff back from quarantine sooner than the 10 days," St. Paul Schools Superintendent Dr. Joe Gothard said.

Gothard said staffing shortages are their biggest challenge right now, including teachers to bus drivers, but he said St. Paul has no plans to go back to distance learning. They believe the best place for students is in the classroom.

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