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Secondary learning model update

Dear parents/caregivers:

As I promised in my Feb. 17 message, I’m writing to update you on our planning to return all secondary students to full-time in-person learning. The information in this message does not apply to students in the Distance Learning Academy.

At tonight’s school board meeting, I presented a plan to return secondary students to in-person learning beginning Tuesday, April 6. 

  • Students in grades 6-12 will return for in-person instruction Monday through Thursday, and will engage in remote learning activities every Friday. 
  • To comply with the governor’s executive order and because the Distance Learning Academy is at capacity and cannot accept more students, we will allow students in grades 6-12 who are not comfortable returning for four days a week of in-person learning to participate in remote learning at their assigned school.

I will share the plan’s key ideas below; I want to emphasize that this plan will require sufficient time to implement the tremendous amount of instructional and operations work involved in order to achieve our goal of a safe return for both students and staff.

Factors making in-person learning at secondary possible 
In addition to the items below, a wide variety of mitigation strategies, e.g., face coverings, contact tracing, continuous operation of ventilation systems, and handwashing protocols, are well established in our system.

  • Virus case rates in the county and in our local communities have improved.
  • Last week, the state provided updated guidance regarding in-person learning for secondary students. (Several weeks ago, the state revised its guidance for younger students, who returned to in-person learning earlier this month.) 
  • Saliva testing for staff is now available in every school building, and staff are encouraged to take advantage of community-based options, too.
  • Nearly 1,000 of our employees have received at least the first dose of vaccine, and we anticipate larger numbers will be vaccinated by April 6.

Why not offer five days of in-person learning for grades 6-12? 
The Minnesota Dept. of Education requires that school districts give extra planning time for teachers who provide both in-person and remote instruction. Because our Distance Learning Academy is at capacity and cannot accept more students, secondary teachers in our physical schools will be teaching students both in person and remotely. Therefore, additional planning time will be required. We are joining other districts, including our neighbors Anoka-Hennepin, Elk River and Wayzata, in combining the additional daily prep times into a single day (Friday), with students engaging in remote learning activities while their classroom teachers prepare for the following week.

Why April 6 (why not earlier)?
Our secondary building leaders need time to develop building-specific plans based on the updated state guidance. We will do the best we can to comply with the revised state guidance but I need to be clear that it will not be possible to maintain three to six feet of physical distance throughout the day in each of our secondary schools. Each building will create plans that support physical distancing and efficient movement through buildings to the greatest extent possible.

  • Transportation, food service, and custodial services will work through complex and multi-layered logistics in their respective areas. 
  • Our facilities staff will move furniture back into classrooms over a several-day period when students are not present. This is not possible while secondary students are in the hybrid model; spring break provides an appropriate time frame for access to buildings over multiple days when students are not present.
  • The state requires that we designate two non-school days for secondary teachers to prepare for the transition to in-person learning, and I have identified March 26 and April 5 as those staff preparation dates. Secondary students will return for in-person learning on April 6.

Our return to in-person learning won’t be “school as usual”
While we are planning for full in-person learning for all grades (except for the Distance Learning Academy), we will not be returning to school as it was prior to last March. The governor’s executive orders, including those regarding large gatherings such as athletic events, still apply to schools. Our daily school operations--including the way students move through buildings, sanitation procedures, face coverings, and more--will still reflect the realities of the pandemic. Someday, life will return to “normal” but until then, pandemic mitigation strategies will still be a daily presence in all our schools.

What’s next?
We will now proceed to flesh out the implementation details. We know a tremendous amount of effort will be required to implement this shift, and we will seek to do it extremely well for the benefit of our students, staff and families.

Cory McIntyre

Superintendent Cory McIntyre