Walz pushes for accelerated return, Park follows suit

Sense of normalcy returning


Anna Benishek

Freshman Kate Lemen uses the Oriole Study Nest Feb. 12 to work on her assignments during distance learning. Grades 9-12 will return to hybrid at 50 percent capacity starting Feb. 22.

Tobias Khabie

An optimistic Gov. Tim Walz delivered what he said was some of the best news since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, announcing that the vast improvements Minnesota has made in the fight against the pandemic has allowed students to start returning to school at a faster pace.

In response to Walz’s announcement, interim Principal Wendy Loberg sent out a phone blast Feb. 17 announcing Park has accelerated the initial return plan so sophomores and juniors will return to school at 50 percent capacity Feb. 22, along with freshmen and seniors.

“I am so excited to have all our learners in grades 9-12 return to high school next week,” Loberg said in the phone blast. 

Junior Caroline Butler said she was displeased by the abruptness of the announcement and feels that a lot of sophomores and juniors are not yet mentally prepared to go back.

“Everyone’s mental state was ‘okay sophomores and juniors are coming in three weeks,’” Butler said. “And all of a sudden I’ve been told I’m going back on Monday, so it’s less about ‘I think we should have waited (to go back) due to COVID,’ and more, ‘this is the plan we had (previously).’”

According to Walz, progress against the pandemic is being made, and schools should start returning to in-person learning.

“We’re on offense now, it’s time to take back the things that make life so wonderful for us,” Walz said. “It’s time to get our students back into school.”

Walz praised Minnesotans for their cooperation with COVID-19 guidelines in a press conference Feb. 17. According to Walz, Minnesota ranks 30th in new cases, while surrounding states are all in the top 10. Because of these recent improvements, Walz is encouraging all schools across the state to start returning to an in-person learning model starting Feb. 22, and should have some form of in-person learning by March 8. 

“We know the best learning happens in the classroom where there are educators in front of (students),” Walz said. 

Sophomore Abby Ellingson said she too was surprised by the announcement, but she is cautiously optimistic that the accelerated return will go smoothly.

“I hope people will wear their masks and take necessary precautions. Yes, cases are declining, which is really good, but you never know with this big change in opening schools. They might rise,” Ellingson said. “I’m hoping everyone will take the necessary precautions and wear their masks.”

As for vaccinations, Walz said the federal government is promising 600 million doses to the general public by mid-summer. Furthermore, Walz said 25 percent of educators in Minnesota are already educated and 18,000 more doses are coming next week. According to Walz, students being able to return to school is a reward for the other sacrifices Minnesotans made throughout the pandemic.

“Students: we’re ready to go, we’re going to get back in school, we’re going to do it safely, we’re going to beat this thing,” Walz said. “This is an exciting day, Minnesota.”