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Schools shutter buildings for the remainder of the year

On Thursday afternoon, Gov. Tim Walz announced that schools would remain shuttered for the remainder of the year, requiring districts to round out their school years through distance learning.

The announcement came at the same time that Walz announced a plan to get up to 100,000 people to return to work, including industrial, manufacturing and office settings.

As he made the announcement, Walz said he understood the frustration shared by students across the state, especially seniors, as well as families at the decision that will ultimately see students missing out on sports and events such as prom.

Superintendent of Schools Dave Krenz

“As a former teacher, this is a heartbreaking decision,” Walz said in a released statement prior to his press conference Thursday. “I am sorry for all of our students who will miss out on graduations, tournaments, and end of year celebrations. While I recognize distance learning is a challenge for many families, it is critical to social distancing in Minnesota and supports the health of Minnesota’s families. We will continue looking for ways to improve the current system and better support our children.”

Not long after Walz’s announcement, the Minnesota State High School League announced it was cancelling the rest of the spring season.

“This difficult decision was one we had hoped we would not need to make.” League Executive Director Erich Martens said in a release from the MSHSL. “Our activities and athletics offer so much to so many students and their school communities, and we thank all who work to provide these amazing opportunities for students. We also value the incredible benefits of strong and supportive connections between students and their coaches and advisors, and our hope is that these will continue even during this time when they are not able to participate or meet face to face.”

There was an idea that schools might return after the May 4 deadline set by Walz through his stay at home executive order, but the move to keep school buildings closed wasn’t much of a surprise for administrators, including Austin Superintendent David Krenz, who agreed with the governor’s decision.

“At this point, considering when you look at the end of the school year … each of the districts are so different in that timing,” Krenz said. “We just ramped up distance learning to get families and students into the rhythm. Now we would have to regenerate a whole different climate. Starting the year all over again.”

Administration and staff will now focus on laying out distance learning plans for the rest of the year, including staff planning days on May 1 and 4, set aside by the governor’s directive.

One of the bigger decisions districts will have to look at is whether or not to suspend graduation to a later date.

Austin has been looking at the possibility with a goal of keeping it as close to the current date of June 5 as possible.

“We’ve been looking at it and discussing it very extensively, but haven’t made any direct decisions,” Krenz said. “We want to keep it as close to the normal date as possible, but a lot of it is taking into account social distancing and crowd sizes.”

While he understands and agrees with the decision, Krenz also understands how students might be feeling.

“I’ve been in schools for a long time — 40 plus years,” Krenz said. “I know how emotional that senior year can be. Even at my age, I think back to my senior year and the things you did that spring semester, friends you said goodbye to, finding new friends.”

“The other side you can look at is, this is unique for us,” Krenz added, speaking of the seniors. “This is an opportunity for us that no other class has ever had. How can I use this for the direction I want to go with my life?”

At the same time, Krenz spoke on how proud he was of the staff of the Austin Public School District.

“All of them are stepping up when called upon for that extra effort,” Krenz said. “Food service staff are working hard to make lunches, staff daycare services are there for emergencies. The innovation and mind change that our teachers and (paraprofessionals) have made and how do I reach out to kids? It’s not as easy doing it distance wise but the staff are making connections.”