96% of School Districts Participating in Minnesota’s First-in-the-Nation Educator Testing Program
ST. PAUL, MN (STL.News)As thousands of children continue to head back to the classroom, the Walz-Flanagan Administration is praising education leaders for their continued participation in the state’s ambitious COVID-19 educator testing program. The state began its first-in-the-nation testing program just over one month ago, and since then, more than 96% of Minnesota’s school districts have signed up to participate. In addition, 41% of nonpublic schools and two out of four tribal schools are also participating. The current rate of transmission among educators is at 0.37 %.
“Getting our children safely back into the classroom continues to be a priority,” said Governor Tim Walz. “From the teachers, to the parents, to school staff, to the kids – we all share the same goal of a safe return to the classroom. Testing is key to that. The educator testing program ensures that all teachers and school staff have regular, easy access to testing to allow us to identify cases and take the appropriate steps before an outbreak occurs.”
In December, Governor Walz announced that all Minnesota public schools who provide some form of in-person learning were required to offer testing for all on-site staff every two weeks beginning January 4, 2021, or whenever they returned to in-person learning after that date. Minnesota’s nonpublic and tribal schools were also offered access to testing supplies to offer tests to their staff.
Each school has been assigned a designated day within a two-week cycle to conduct testing. Saliva PCR testing supplies are delivered directly from the State warehouse to each school district. The programs are run by School COVID-19 coordinators who were trained to oversee staff use of the self-administered saliva tests.
“There are many heroes of the COVID-19 pandemic, and among those heroes are the teachers and school staff,” said Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. “They’ve found creative and innovative ways to engage students who are learning from home, and as they continue returning to the classroom, they’re following guidance to keep themselves, their families, and their students safe. As the mom of a second grader, I’m grateful to all the educators who are participating in the testing program to help us keep our schools open.”
As of February 11, 85% of K-8 classes are in some form of in-person learning, and 15% are in distance learning. Back in December of 2020, approximately 26% of Minnesota’s public school districts and charter schools had their elementary students in an in-person learning model.
“Governor Walz knows how deeply this pandemic has impacted our students,” said Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker. “Above all, he wants our students back in their classrooms and he wants our educators and school staff to stay safe. We know we could do both – even with the arrival of the vaccine, testing remains the critical element to achieving this goal.”
Minnesota is the 8th state in the country to begin vaccinating school staff, and as of February 5, 2011, only 15 states had begun vaccinating educators. After this week, 45,610 educators, school staff, and child care workers will have been vaccinated as a part of the pilot program and many more that were vaccinated through other partners – like local public health, pharmacies, and through 65+ vaccine clinics.
“Throughout the pandemic we have learned many lessons about what works and what doesn’t – and regular COVID testing works,” said Deputy Education Commissioner Heather Mueller. “ This innovative program that provides free COVID testing to educators in their own school buildings is providing comfort and security during a school year that has seen a lot of uncertainty.”
Educators and staff are not required to take the COVID tests. The tests are at no-cost to staff or schools. In addition to testing, the state provided cloth and disposable face masks for every school staff and student in the state, as well as face shields for every educator and school staff member.