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Diocesan schools planning for in-person classes in the fall

Diocesan school officials, in communications sent out in mid-July, say that returning to school this fall is a top diocesan priority and that school leaders have been working to understand their options.

While the situation remains fluid, the goal is to open with in-person instruction, although students will experience new protocols and procedures recommended by state and federal health guidelines.

Officials say that school families had participated in a statewide survey organized through the Minnesota Catholic Conference, which included about 400 responses from the Diocese of Duluth. The feedback helped to analyze the distance learning that took place in the spring after schools across the state were closed by Gov. Tim Walz due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also helpful in planning for the next school year, which is fast approaching.

Planning for opening in person has meant working with comprehensive guidance and instruction in collaboration with other dioceses across the state and with recommendations from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and the Minnesota Department of Health, insurance companies, and more. It’s structured to allow individual schools to develop plans that make sense for their students, staff, and community.

Those plans will be communicated to families so they will know what school will look like for students in the fall, and with the caveat that the realities in a particular community can change things, with schools “toggling” between in-person instruction, distance learning, or a hybrid approach depending on the circumstances and what is safe at the time.

An example of how quickly things can change came with Gov. Walz’s executive order mandating masks in many indoor spaces, including K-12 schools, effective July 25.

Cynthia Zook, director of schools for the diocese, said that “is our most challenging protocol for our Catholic schools.”

“We are aware of the concern regarding our learning environment and child development — especially for our youngest students,” she said. “Working with the Walz administration to establish a more reasonable approach to mask wearing in our Catholic schools is a priority.”

She noted that Catholics schools in the Duluth Diocese are not as crowded as many of the public schools, allowing more confidence the schools could provide adequate social distancing.

“We are fine-tuning our policies to prepare for the start of a safe and healthy school year,” she said. “Together our vigilance and flexibility in confronting COVID-19 is the best path forward.”

Zook said teachers and principals are ready to welcome students back to their buildings “where students and staff can once again be together as a faith-filled learning community with Christ, the teacher.”

— By Deacon Kyle Eller / The Northern Cross