ST. PAUL — Minnesota's top K-12 education official told lawmakers Monday, Feb. 8, that the state doesn't yet have a determined target date for getting secondary students back into the classroom.

Minnesota Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker said department officials continued to work on getting more students around the state back to in-person instruction but didn't offer a date when students in grades 6 through 12 could expect to return.

The comments came after state Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, urged the state to act quicker in approving local plans for in-person instruction and when he asked whether schools could expect to take up in-person learning for that age group in the next two weeks.

"It's been a priority from the beginning to find safe and healthy ways of bringing students in-person to learn when they can," Ricker said. "It has been our charge, certainly since the beginning and you have my commitment that it continues to be what we think about at the Department of Education."

Elementary-aged students around the state have resumed in-person classes in recent weeks and Minneapolis schools on Monday welcomed back their youngest students. Since the beginning of the academic year, local school officials have worked with state education and health officials to track COVID-19 rates in their counties and used the information to decide whether students should learn in the classroom, at home or in a combination of the two.

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Chamberlain pointed to CDC and World Health Organization guidance suggesting in-person instruction could be conducted safely with COVID-19 mitigation measures in place and called on Ricker to move more quickly to get older students transitioned out of virtual learning.

"They have to get back in," he said, "and this should really be expedited in all forms and fashions."

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson, call 651-290-0707 or email

CORRECTION: Minnesota Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker's name was wrong in an earlier version of this story. It was updated on Feb. 9, 2021. Forum News Service regrets the error.