On Sunday, March 15, Minnesota Governor Tim Walz signed an executive order to temporarily close Minnesota K-12 public schools to students from March 18 to March 27 due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. According to latest reports, as of March 18, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Minnesota had risen to 77.
During this time period, school administrators and teachers are being asked to develop long-term plans to provide continued education and “essential services,” according to a press release from the Governor’s office. The Badger and Greenbush-Middle River School and its communities are responding to this directive.
When GMR Superintendent Larry Guggisberg— a former history teacher— first heard about the school closure, he thought about the historic element of this decision and the COVID-19 pandemic itself.
“We haven’t had this dramatic of a social change in our country since let’s say rationing food in World War II, the TB (tuberculosis) crisis in the 1950’s, the Great Depression in the 1930’s,” Guggisberg said. “This (COVID-19 pandemic) ranks right up there… as affecting so many people…My first reaction (to the state school closure) was ‘Wow, this is going to be a game changer.’”
Badger Superintendent Kevin Ricke saw this decision as inevitable.
“The escalation of the coronavirus pandemic had already forced widespread closures across the country in other states,” Ricke said via email. “Once our neighboring states like Wisconsin, Iowa and South Dakota closed it was only a matter of time waiting for the Minnesota announcement.”
Now, how are the schools reacting during this closure period? Teachers are working to develop distance or flexible learning plans for their students in the case that school doesn’t return to session after March 27. Ricke explained how the Minnesota Department of Education wants consistency in terms of when to start distance and flexible learning, wanting districts to wait until March 30 before beginning these programs.
“The purpose of the eight days (from March 18-27) is to get organized in the event the closure is extended,” Guggisberg said. “It might be two weeks beyond it, or it might be even more.”
This type of learning could include online (e-learning) and/or paper, meaning a variety of low-tech and high-tech instructional material and activities. Ricke provided some low-tech examples, such as maps, graphs, poster boards, music, art, and some high-tech examples, such as online textbooks, digital group-sharing documents, photo/video journaling, blogging.
“Teachers will be creative,” Ricke said. “I’m kind of curious what they’ll come up with during this planning period.”
Guggisberg said his district already has a number of teachers who have some things in place (example: education activities on their teacher webpages) to a point that he doesn’t view providing this learning as a “huge obstacle.” He did admit that this type of learning environment will be easier to transition into for those in fourth grade and up, but provide more challenges in the grades below.
Schools also, Guggisberg said, will have to provide special education services during this time.
“Greenbush-Middle River and every other school in the state of Minnesota has to figure out how we’re going to accommodate needs for special ed students,” Guggisberg said.
During this closure, schools also have to provide other services to students, including meals and child care of pre-kindergarten through 12-year-old students, specifically those whose guardians work in the medical or emergency field.
When school will for sure resume is an uncertainty. According to the GMR Facebook page, the school had students take their belongings home, “as if it’s summer vacation,” Guggisberg said, including cleaning out desks, lockers, and gym lockers, and bringing home band instruments, all to help allow the school to better do a “deep clean” of its building. It also plans to do a “deep clean” of its buses.
“The optimist says we will see our students return to school on March 30,” Guggisberg said. “… The pessimist or realist would say, and I have a quote from the national Education Week. It says (that) it’s very possible you’re not going to see your students for the rest of the school year.”
Both superintendents have messages to their schools, ones not of panic, but of flexibility and strength.
Ricke cited a quote by the late American author Robert Ludlum, that goes, “Blessed are the flexible for they will not allow themselves to become bent out of shape.”
Guggisberg said, “We’re going to make this work and when we come out of this, we’re going to be better than we are. It may take some time, but we’re going to make this work.”
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