As buses rolled in at University Avenue Elementary School, Governor Tim Walz and Education Commissioner Heather Mueller were there to lead the official welcoming committee.
“Good morning, happy first day of school,” Walz repeated to individual students as they arrived.
It’s a big change from last year with most students attending in person, face to face on day one. Some districts are starting the year requiring masks. In the Anoka-Hennepin District, that applies to Kindergarten through sixth graders based on the spread in the community.
“This is the safest best place for kids to be,” said Walz. “Not just for content and knowledge but for social and emotional learning.”
Walz said being safely in school is important, but he’s looking forward to a possible next step involving vaccination.
“While we are making progress in the 12 to 15 age group and the 16 to 17 year olds, we, like everyone else are waiting with great anticipation for when we get clearance for 5 to 11 year olds to become vaccinated,” he said.
In the meantime, Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said mitigation strategies are still in place.
“We are making sure that our students are physically distanced. We are making sure that we are washing our hands. We are wearing masks, that we are quarantining and staying home when you are sick, that you have appropriate ventilation system and that you are testing if you don’t have a vaccine,” said Mueller.
Governor Walz acknowledged the challenges faced by students and teachers with constantly changing learning modes. After a year and a half of that, educators say they expect a less bumpy ride.
“We’re pretty much prepared for anything after last year,” said Principal Diedre Bloemers. “We had such a shift in learning models, I don’t anticipate that this year but certainly we’re ready for anything.”
So how did kids do when they couldn’t be here in person? Educators say there is likely some catching up to do.
“We’re going to be doing assessments right away early on to see where our kids are. We have some data from last year. But honestly, we’re just going to take kids where they’re at. We’re looking at growth,” said Bloemers.
Across the state, some districts are struggling to find enough bus drivers. State officials are looking to see if they can help provide some incentives to bring drivers back to work.