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Judge grants Minneapolis teachers temporary restraining order halting in-person teaching for some

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A weekend temporary order allowed some Minneapolis Public School District (MPS) teachers and staff to not return to in-person work Monday due to Covid-19 concerns, according to court documents..

MPS staff were expected to return to in-person teaching Monday, but a ruling from Hennepin County District Court Judge Susan Robiner said that staff and teachers who had accommodations to work from home or were in the process of applying for them did not have to return with the rest of the staff, according to the order obtained by CNN affiliate WCCO.

The ruling came after the Minneapolis Federation of Teachers and Education Support Professionals (MFT) accused the school district of denying accommodations for teachers and staff who were either at high risk of contracting Covid-19 or were caring for a household member who was at risk of getting the virus, according to the documents.

“The risk of contracting a serious illness which has killed almost a half-million persons in the United States is axiomatically a profound harm,” Judge Robiner wrote in her ruling.

“We are fully complying with the order,” Superintendent Ed Graff said in the statement. “Our concern is making sure employees who qualify for ADA and FMLA accommodations are able to receive them, and that we follow the Governor’s order to provide accommodations to the extent possible.”

MFT also brought an unfair labor practices action over the issue to the Public Employee Labor Relations Board last week.

“We will continue to ask to formally bargain so our union members can know their safety and workload concerns are recognized, as well as students’ and families’ concerns,” MFT ESP Chapter President Shaun Laden said.

The district voted on January 19 to return to in-person instruction, according to the court documents. When asked their preference, 48% of the district’s families said they would elect to send their students to in-person learning, 40% said they would keep their children learning remotely and 11% did not respond.

The distribution of students who will still be learning remotely shows that there is enough demand for online teachers to allow those who are requesting accommodations to continue working from home, the order said.

“We know we have members who are willing to go back in-person, and we know people who need to stay working remotely,” Laden said. “We hope this court order will bring more conversations on how we can work together so all of our students, staff, families and communities are comfortable with the plans.”

Prior to Saturday, MPS had received 232 Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requests, 172 of which were granted and 60 of which were in process, according to a district statement issued after Judge Robiner’s ruling.

MPS employs over 6,400 teachers and staff, and in-person learning for pre-kindergarten and kindergarten is still slated to begin February 8, with a phased return of higher grades to follow, according to the district’s official website.

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