Bill that would let schools quickly switch to distance learning heads to House floor

(KSTP) – The Minnesota House Education Policy Committee approved a bill Monday that could make it easier for school districts and charter schools to move to all-distance learning with short notice to parents and teachers and no option for in-person instruction.

House File 2950 includes several provisions intended to respond to the urgent needs facing public schools due to an ongoing pandemic,” says one of the bill’s authors, Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis.

Hassan said Minneapolis schools have experienced repeatedly high volumes of sick calls, largely due to COVID.

Under the bill, schools could go into “crisis online learning” on just one day’s notice and schools would not be required to provide an in-person option as required under current law.

“This package also includes policy recommendations to add crisis language to the Online Learning Act statute and a temporary change for e-learning days,” said Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller, testifying in favor of the bill. “These language updates give our school leaders the local control and flexibility they need when a crisis occurs.”

Mueller says a crisis could be for anything from a COVID surge to a burst water pipe to a deer crashing into a school and doing damage.

All Democrats on the committee voted in favor of the measure, while all Republicans voted against it, largely because of the lack of an option for in-person learning.

“Face-to-face learning is essential to teach reading and I would hope we have a proposal that comes forth that focuses on that,” said Rep. Sondra Erickson, R-Princeton.

The bill would also expand who could be eligible to work as substitute teachers. According to a summary of the bill: “The applicant must meet one of the following requirements: has an associate’s degree or equivalent; is enrolled in a teacher preparatory program; or has been employed as an education support personnel or paraprofessional for at least one academic year, and has a high school diploma or equivalent. The district or charter school must provide substitute training to the applicant, and request the background check required for all employees.”

The bill now heads to the House floor for a vote, but it will likely face resistance in the Republican-controlled Senate.