Governor orders school buildings closed through end of school year; area districts considering ways to honor their seniors

With Gov. Tim Walz ordering schools to stay closed through the end of the 2019-20 school year, area school districts are stepping up their plans to honor seniors and observe the end of the school year.

A handwritten sign is displayed through entrance windows at Kennedy Elementary School in Willmar while the school building is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Erica Dischino / West Central Tribune

Since mid-March, Minnesota’s schools, teachers and students have had one thing after another taken from them by the coronavirus pandemic.

Sports and other spring activities were canceled, schools were closed and instruction moved to distance learning, and concerts were canceled. High schools canceled proms.

The final blow for the 2019-20 school year came Thursday when Gov. Tim Walz announced that schools would remain closed through the end of the year.

Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker and Walz, both former teachers, said the decision broke their hearts.

“I know how badly our students want to continue to connect with their friends,” Ricker said Thursday during the daily news conference on the state's response to COVID-19.


She said the state and schools continue to look for ways to address inequities that existed in the state’s education system before the pandemic. “We keep the relationship with students at the center of any plan,” she said.

The Department of Education is planning to offer more support to districts about addressing internet issues and student relationships.

Most schools make regular adjustments to their distance-learning plans, as it’s new for nearly everyone in the state.

Asked about some parents’ preference to have only core classes taught in distance learning, Ricker talked about the need for a variety of classes. “The one thing keeping a student connected to their school community may be what someone else wants to get rid of,” she said.

Walz during the news conference talked about his fond memories of high school.

“You will forever be the class of 2020,” he said. “You will not be defined by staying home and missing proms and graduations; you will be defined by understanding how interconnected our world is and by coming together to try and solve hard problems.”

In the future, he said, the classes of 2020 may be much closer because of what they’ve experienced. “This ties you together in a way that has not been seen ever.”

Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm told the West Central Tribune that, with a final decision, “we can begin to look ahead and see what we can do to address our needs going forward.”


The district is working on different options to honor seniors and close out the school year, he said.

“We won’t simply do nothing; that would be unacceptable,” he said. “I know the wheels are in motion.”

Holm said he understands the burden distance learning places on families who are dealing with added stress because of the pandemic.

At a meeting earlier this week, school leaders discussed the work needed if Walz decided to reopen schools when a stay-at-home order expires May 4, said MACCRAY Superintendent Sherri Broderius.

They discussed restocking kitchens and cleaning and disinfecting buildings. Their message to Walz and Ricker was to make a final decision soon, she said.

Broderius and Lac qui Parle Valley Superintendent Greg Schmidt said their districts already have ideas for end-of-year observances.

Schmidt said the district is planning to have a prom sometime in June or July, and possibly graduation.

“If it was safe, we’d love to have the kids back,” he said, “but I don’t believe it’s going to be safe for quite some time.”


In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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