Senate Republicans approved legislation on Thursday to strip DFL Gov. Tim Walz of his powers to close schools during peacetime emergencies, relegating that authority solely to local school districts.
The vote was 40-27, with some Democratic senators joining the chamber’s two independents in voting for the measure.
Walz has been under pressure to reopen schools more quickly for in-person instruction. Earlier this year, Walz began reopening elementary schools for in-person instruction and on Wednesday he said local districts must begin offering classes for middle and high school students in person by March 8.
Health guidelines and studies have shown schools can reopen safely as long as health protocols, such as social-distancing, masks, staggered schedules, testing and other measures are in place.
The pandemic has created tremendous hardship for parents, particularly in communities of color, as they have struggled to educate their children. Students are experiencing depression, suicidal ideation and other adverse mental health effects because of the prolonged isolation from classmates.
State Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, is the chief sponsor of the measure to target Walz’s power over schools. She told reporters ahead of the floor debate that school districts would be better served by guidelines instead of government mandates.
“A one-size approach rarely fits,” Nelson said. “That’s why I look forward to passing Senate File 2 today which will return the authority to where it belongs, quite frankly, and that is with the local school districts and their leaders.”
The legislation is unlikely to advance in the DFL-led House, where the bill has not received a hearing and has a single GOP sponsor.
Most Senate DFL lawmakers opposed the legislation.
State Sen. Chuck Wiger, DFL-Maplewood, said legislators should instead be focusing on providing schools with more resources to weather the pandemic and support students.