Gov. Tim Walz has given a target date – March 8 – to return middle and high school students in Minnesota to classrooms for in-person learning.

The governor made the announcement earlier this week, using a football reference to make his point: “I asked a couple of times for us to buckle down and have a goal-line stand,” Walz said. “Well, we’re on offense now.”

At present, approximately 86% of Minnesota school districts are offering various sorts of in-person learning for at least some students, according to Education Minnesota, and two thirds of those districts are offering some kind of in-person learning for middle and high school students. Walz’s directive aims to get all districts back to face-to-face learning.

Here’s why it’s time:

● Many Minnesota students already are participating in at least some part-time classroom instruction, yet COVID-19 numbers have dropped drastically since November, the darkest days of the pandemic.

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● The state’s COVID-19 transmission rate among teachers, as of this week, was only a fraction of 1%.

● Approximately 25% of Minnesota’s teachers have received a COVID-19 vaccine and educators and school staff are being prioritized for more doses.

The Centers for Disease Control this week revised its guidelines for education and recommends students return to classrooms, provided safety measures are in place.

Further, fears of students struggling and posting more poor grades are becoming reality. A report last week by the Grand Forks Herald showed that failing grades are on the rise in the Grand Forks district, reinforcing fears declared last year by local educators. In grades 6-12, the number of “A” grades remained steady from fall 2019 to fall 2020, but the number of “B” and “C” grades decreased slightly. Failing grades rose – the number of “F” grades given by teachers in grades 6-12 increased from 5% to 12% year over year.

The number of high school students, in grades 9-12, who received an “F” jumped from 259 in fall semester last year to 383 this year.

In December, the Herald reported that some students are struggling in East Grand Forks, too. The number of students who received failing grades in the first quarter of the 2020-21 year rose 73% at Central Middle School and 48% at East Grand Forks Senior High.

And again, it’s no surprise to educators, who know that face-to-face learning is best.

“We anticipated and we have seen that there are more students struggling this year than a typical year,” said Grand Forks Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Catherine Gillach recently. “We know that students connected to teachers every day gives them the most enriched and supportive learning environment on a daily basis.”

So Walz’s order is a good move and it comes as a year’s worth of concerns – specifically about grades and students falling behind – are becoming reality.

Also good: To include safety measures, including social distancing when possible, strongly recommending the proper use of face masks or shields, and encouraging families of students to participate in regular COVID-19 testing.

Walz is right – let’s get kids back into their classrooms. It’s time to go on offense.