Message from Commissioner Ricker

department of education

December 16, 2020

Dear School Leaders:

Thank you for your continued work and leadership to support our students, families and educators. The position our school communities have been in this school year is tragic, and I am so grateful for your efforts to provide our students with a high-quality education, even in these circumstances.

As you all know, schools play a vital role in the health and well-being of Minnesota’s children. Based on Minnesota’s evolving knowledge and understanding of the virus, we know that children are less susceptible to serious complications from COVID-19.

We have also learned more about how to reduce the potential for spread in schools from success in other settings.

That is why today, Governor Walz is announcing a plan to prioritize putting elementary students back in the classroom.

The Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year has been updated, so that starting on January 18, 2021, every elementary school across the state may choose to operate an in-person learning model without needing to consult their Regional Support Team, as long as they are able to implement all updated health and safety measures in the Safe Learning Plan. Middle and high schools will continue to use the original process for determining their learning models, and must also implement the additional health and safety measures if they are providing in-person or hybrid learning.

One new mitigation strategy being implemented, beginning January 4, 2021, is that all public schools providing in-person or hybrid learning must offer on-site saliva testing to all staff who interact with students. This testing will be conducted every two weeks (districts and charter schools will be designated a date within a two-week schedule). Staff includes teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, support staff, nutrition staff, bus drivers and more. The State of Minnesota will provide training and saliva test kits so that schools can conduct this testing. Training and supplies will be available to nonpublic and tribal schools operating in-person or hybrid learning that wish to provide COVID-19 saliva testing to their staff as well. A questions and answers document is available on this topic.

Note: As we begin ordering test kits, it is critical that we have an accurate estimate of schools operating in-person and hybrid learning. Please work with your site verification coordinator to make sure the Learning Model Portal is updated with your accurate learning model at each grade level. If you will be operating in-person prior to January 18, 2021, that detail must be part of your existing plan that has already been communicated to your school communities. To confirm the number of test kits each district, charter school, nonpublic or tribal school needs, MDE will be distributing a survey to collect your numbers.

Webinar: Updates to the Safe Learning Plan

MDE will host a webinar on Thursday, December 17, from 4-5 p.m., to go over all of the updates. Topics will include Regional Support Team consultation options, how to use the Informed Decision Making Guide to help with learning model planning, and looking ahead to COVID-19 Saliva Testing trainings. Stream the webinar live on Thursday, December 17, from 4-5 p.m., on the Minnesota Department of Health’s YouTube channel  (

Training for Conducting COVID-19 Saliva Testing

Trainings will be held for COVID-19 coordinators on Monday, December 21 (11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.), Tuesday, December 22 (4-5 p.m.) and Wednesday, December 23 (7:30-8:30 a.m.). MDE will provide registration information on Thursday, December 17. These trainings will cover all of the logistics and technology needs for conducting testing, including how you’ll receive the tests, how to ship them to the lab, how staff will self-administer the tests, and more.

Thank you, again, for your continued partnership and leadership to support our students, families, educators and staff.


Mary Cathryn Ricker, NBCT
Education Commissioner