Issues abound as school starts across Minnesotaby Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
St. Paul, Minn. — Summer ended Tuesday for thousands of students across Minnesota, as they headed back to school.
The new year starts with a presidential address -- but districts are also facing a number of issues, from flu to funding.
President Obama plans to address the nation's school students at 11 a.m. Tuesday, but those plans sparked reaction from critics who worried the president might use his captive audience of youngsters to push his political agenda.
In response, the White House on Monday released a text of the speech.
Most Minnesota districts, though, had already made plans for how to handle the speech. Some -- like Anoka-Hennepin, St. Paul, and Minneapolis -- are leaving it up to teachers in each classroom.
Other districts, like Moorhead and Bloomington, are not allowing it to be shown live Tuesday, but recording it and allowing teachers to show it later.
Regardless of how a district is handling the speech, all have also noted that parents are free to opt their children out of watching the speech. Many districts also instructed teachers that do show the speech to incorporate the event into some classroom lesson.
The start of school also means large numbers of young people again will be in confined spaces, and the threat of spreading illnesses increases. Minnesota health officials have warned about the possibility of the return of the H1N1 flu.
Dozens of 4-H children were sent home from the State Fair last week after exposure to H1N1 flu. Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Sanne Magnan says while the parents of school children shouldn't be alarmed, they should be aware.
"We know that it's out in the community and this is just a stark reminder, that as people start back to school, people start congregating together, that we need to emphasize hand washing, respiratory etiquette, or staying at home or going home if you're sick," Magnan said.
Magnan says "respiratory etiquette" includes covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue or a shirt sleeve, rather than using one's hands.
Revised plans for dealing with H1N1 suggest the state and districts will be less likely to close entire schools when a case is found, but rather work to send sick children home quickly.
Earlier this spring, state lawmakers passed a budget that kept school funding flat, but local districts still moved to cut their own budgets.
One reason for this is that Gov. Tim Pawlenty used his budget-cutting powers this summer to balance the budget. He didn't cut school funding, but delayed some payments until the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, 2010.
While schools are still going to get that money, many said the payment shift would create cash flow issues that would necessitate short-term borrowing.
The school funding issue is also likely to come up this fall and winter in two ways: A number of districts will go to voters to ask for more funding through a tax increase, and districts across the state will be negotiating new contracts with their teacher unions.
New buildings, old buildings
Tuesday also marked the debut of at least seven new school buildings in Minnesota, five in the outer metro suburbs, two in the Rochester area.
The new schools include four new high schools -- in Farmington, Chanhassen, Woodbury, and St. Michael-Albertville -- and three new elementary schools in Savage, Rochester and Chatfield.
But the new year also marks the final year in business for some schools. Roosevelt Elementary and Longfellow School in St. Paul are slated to close after this year, per a vote by the district's school board earlier this summer.
In Minneapolis, a handful of schools are also slated to close -- but a final vote on whether that will happen won't take place until Sept. 22.
Other issues on the horizon for schools this year include:
- A Congressional debate on the renewal of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
- Thirteen schools in Minnesota (10 of which are in the Minneapolis district) will go through restructuring this year, per the requirements of the current No Child Left Behind law. Restructuring is the result of those schools not making Adequate Yearly Progress for a certain number of years - the process include everything from overhauling the school's curriculum to replacing the entire staff and leadership at that site.
- Another possible attempt by state lawmakers to change the law requiring Minnesota public school districts to start after Labor Day. The holiday will be late again in 2010, and some lawmakers expressed an interest to try again after failing to change the law earlier this spring.