Yesterday, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz announced state guidelines for schools for the upcoming school year.
Walz and his staff released the Safe Learning plan, which allows district administration to choose which of three learning models with which they will start the school year.
Those models are in-person learning, distance learning, or a hybrid model of the two.
Families of school age children, teachers, school staff, bus drivers, and everyone else impacted by the school calendar are now awaiting news from their respective districts about which model will be followed.
Area superintendents answered questions about the issue yesterday after Walz’s announcement.
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW)
Superintendent Brad Sellner said an email went out to all district families at approximately 8 p.m. yesterday evening.
“HLWW Public Schools will be working with county health officials over the next several days and weeks to evaluate the current data in our area, as well as reviewing other important information and guidance, in order to make the best decision for opening our schools,” Sellner said.
The email sent to families reminded them variables are constantly changing, and that district staff appreciates everyone’s patience.
Sellner said his district’s school board will meet Monday, Aug. 10 to review final plans for each of the three learning models.
He said he hopes to share the final plan with families after that meeting, and said the plan will include details about all three learning scenarios; COVID-19 program coordinator; social distancing and minimizing exposure; food service/cafeteria; school aged care (SAC); face coverings; protecting vulnerable populations; hygiene practices; cleaning and materials handling; monitoring and excluding for illness; handling suspected/confirmed positive cases of COVID-19; water and ventilation systems; transportation; support of mental health and wellness; technology/internet access; classrooms; office spaces; communications/contact information; special education/504 plans; use of facilities for non-school activities; activities and athletics; attendance; grading; media Centers and libraries; assessment and learning loss; physical education and music classes; future guidance; and appendices – forms and MDH/CDC guidance.
Sellner said he knows families around the state may be looking at open enrollment options, but thinks that might not matter much in the current education climate.
“Open-enrollment is always an issue, but if every public school is held to the guidance and working with their department of health, there may not be a whole lot of difference between what HLWW is doing and the other schools around us are doing, so I don’t know what open-enrolling to another district is going to provide for a student other than if there is a special program that another district has,” he said.
Superintendent Melissa Radeke said her district has been working all summer to prepare for the three different learning scenarios.
The district has purchased Chrometablets for kindergartners and first graders; and ChromeBooks for students in grades two through twelve, so that the district will have better tools to provide instruction in all three scenarios.
“School districts will determine their Safe Learning model by monitoring county level data related to COVID-19, and working with their Regional Service Cooperative to consider the localized situation,” Radeke said. “The county level data will include 14-day case rates per 10,000 people.”
Lester Prairie has also implemented a Reintegration Advisory Committee. Members include teachers, paraprofessionals, the school secretary, the counselor, the nurse, the dean/athletic director, and administration, who are working on a preparedness plan for safely returning to learning in each of the learning models. That team will continue to meet regularly.
The Lester Prairie School Board will approve the preparedness plan at its August meeting.
Radeke said she intends to send information to district families later next week, and noted she appreciates their patience and understanding. “The safety of our learning community remains our top priority,” she said.
Superintendent Jeff Powers said the Dassel-Cokato district has been working all summer to prepare learning models for in-person learning, distance learning, and hybrid learning.
Administration and faculty have three separate plans, and are ready to communicate those plans soon.
The DC district does have a virtual learning option for students who are prevented from being able to join classes in-person this year.
Holy Trinity – Winsted
Father Matt Wiering said Holy Trinity, along with other Catholic schools in the Diocese of New Ulm, have every intention of opening for school at the normal time, in person and every day.
“Dean of Students Wes Kapping is leading a committee to determine what the safety protocols will be for the school year,” Wiering said. “This is definitely a work-in-progress, and we have not nailed down concrete specifics at this point.”
He said Holy Trinity will be applying the recommendations established by the Diocese of New Ulm, and the other Catholic dioceses of Minnesota. “We will be publicly announcing these plans by the middle of August,” he said.
Executive Director Joel Landskroener said his school has already announced that it will open Wed., August 26.
“Our Board of Directors, as early as the June 8 meeting, decided that we would open for regular on-campus school August 26 as planned,” he said. “Since that time, our leadership team has developed plans and protocols in consultation with the Carver County Department of Health, and the recommendations from the CDC, Minnesota Department of Health, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.”
Distance learning will be an option for Mayer Lutheran students. “Our teachers will live-stream their classes in case a student is unable to attend school,” Landskroener said, “Those classes will also be recorded if the child is too ill to watch them live. We have the equipment to make it happen,” he said.
St. James Lutheran – Howard Lake
Pastor Mark Loder said St. James has already communicated with its families that school will open as normal Tuesday, Sept. 8.
He said families could expect communication about specific protocols and a COVID-19 preparedness plan as early as today, Friday, July 31.
“Our school board has already done the discussion necessary to move forward,” Loder said. “The teachers are prepared to offer distance education as needed during the year.
“We are not, at this point, anticipating having a all school closure. If a student or staff member becomes ill, we have a plan in place to ensure sanitization, so that we can continue to provide the in-person education our students need,” he said.
Matthew Schoen, superintendent of Delano Public Schools, said his district’s school board will discuss the governor’s guidance at its Monday, Aug. 3 meeting.
Glencoe-Silver Lake (GSL)
GLC Superintendent Christopher Sonju said his district will communicate plans for the upcoming school year to families as quickly as possible following Walz’s announcement.
“We have a communication system in place that we’ve been using to help communicate with our families . . . we use this all the time. We are here to serve our families and students and will continue to do so.
The following school districts were contacted for comment but had not responded by mid-morning Friday, July 31: Watertown-Mayer; Waconia; Litchfield; and Annandale.
For information about the State of Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan, visit: https://mn.gov/covid19/for-minnesotans/safe-learning-plan/overview.jsp.
Watch Herald Journal, Delano Herald Journal and Enterprise Dispatch newspapers and websites for up-to-date information.