A few cases, no outbreaks at private schools

students at Carondelet Catholic School
Fourth grader Isaac Burgmaier and other students at Carondelet Catholic School were given lanyards at the start of the school year to avoid misplacing their masks. The private school has reported just one COVID-19 case in two months of in-person classes. Submitted photo

None of Southwest Minneapolis’ five private schools — each of which started the year with an in-person or hybrid model — has yet appeared on the state’s list of schools facing COVID-19 outbreaks. Nor has Hennepin Elementary School, the only one of Southwest’s three charter schools to offer in-person instruction. The state defines an outbreak as five or more confirmed cases in a two-week period.

The reopening of schools has been a hot-button issue across the country, as public, charter and private schools look to balance safety with meeting the social, emotional and academic needs of students. The resumption of in-person classes at Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) remains under discussion.

A nationwide August survey of public school districts found that about 60% intended to hold some form of in-person classes to start the year. Meanwhile, over 80% of private schools were planning to offer in-person classes, though not necessarily full time, according to a different survey from the National Association of Independent Schools.

While all five Southwest private schools have offered in-person classes, just one — Annunciation Catholic School in Windom — is offering full-time, in-person classes for all grades. Carondelet Catholic School, which has campuses in Linden Hills and Fulton, offers full-time, in-person classes for students in grades K-6.

Lake Country School, a K-8 Montessori program in Kingfield, had its first positive COVID-19 case over the weekend of Oct. 24. The students who shared a classroom with the person who tested positive are now learning from home, principal Ben Moudry said.

At Carondelet Catholic School, which has a grades K-2 campus in Linden Hills and a grades 3-8 campus in Fulton, there was one positive COVID-19 case “about a month ago” at the upper campus, admissions director Megan Hower said.

There have been no COVID-19 cases at the Hennepin charter, the school reported. Annunciation Catholic School and City of Lakes Waldorf School didn’t respond to requests for information.

The opportunity for in-person learning is what drew Armatage residents Tyler and Anna Dill to enroll their sons at Carondelet. Their sons, who are in kindergarten and second grade, began the year at the public magnet school Armatage Montessori, but Tyler Dill said they struggled with the all-virtual format. He said his second grader struggled at times to even log into his virtual classroom, which stressed
him out. And online kindergarten wasn’t working well at all, he said.

Dill said he’s noticed that his sons are happier and are learning more since they were enrolled at Carondelet, which offers daily in-person classes for students in grades K-6. While the Dills had been pleased with their experience at Armatage, Tyler Dill said he might want to keep his kids at Carondelet going forward.

A big part of being in school is “being around other kids,” Tyler Dill said. “It’s hard to quantify that, but when you see the difference in how your kids are learning — those little changes in their mood and their positivity level — to me it’s a no-brainer that they have to be in person.”

The Minneapolis school district has lost 1,700 students this year as of Oct. 20, including 900 beyond what it initially projected.

A survey of MPS parents from October found that 29.5% of families would prefer full-time in-person school, 33.8% would prefer a hybrid model and 36.7% would prefer full-time distance learning. Some parents have criticized the survey for lacking specifics about a potential hybrid model.

A statewide teachers union survey from July found that 49% of educators thought that schools should be in full-time distance learning to start the year. The survey did not include teachers who work at private schools.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, an October survey of Minnesota’s union educators found that staff teaching in-person classes feel less safe than those teaching remotely.

rallied outside of Justice Page Middle School
Hundreds of Minneapolis Public Schools educators rallied outside of Justice Page Middle School on Oct. 26 in support of the district’s child care workers, who want hazard pay for in-person work to be reinstated. Photo by Nate Gotlieb

Minneapolis Public Schools

Many families and educators in MPS say they want more information about how decisions are being made.

The district requires schools to hold real- time virtual classes each day that school is in session. It has announced that it will ramp up in-person services for students with higher needs, such as those who are homeless, have disabilities and need language services. But until October, it had not detailed the safety measures it would take in the event that it turns to a hybrid model.

The district has not released daily attendance figures for remote learning. Incomplete week-to-week data show that most students are marked as “present” at least once each week. In the week of Oct. 12-16, for example, 88% of students had at least once positive attendance mark.

Tired of long days in front of a computer screen and nights and weekends assisting families, the district’s teachers have announced that they will no longer work beyond their contracted school and prep-time hours. They’re also asking the district to hold formal collective bargaining sessions around safety issues related to an in-person return.

Union president Greta Callahan said formal bargaining would be a way to ensure safety in buildings. The district says it is working with its labor unions and following the guidance of state and national health experts.

Additionally, district support staff continue to rally for hazard pay for the child care workers who are caring for the children of essential workers during school hours. Those workers were making an additional $5 an hour for the latter part of last spring but have returned to regular wages this fall.