Area schools work to open for in-person learning this fall

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, students from both the Badger and Greenbush-Middle River (GMR) schools, along with schools across the entire state, left their school buildings for what proved to be the final day of in-person instruction of the 2019-20 school year on March 17, 2020.

The Badger and GMR schools look to open their doors back up this fall for in-person instruction, following conversations with both school’s superintendents and following guidance set forth in the state’s “Safe Learning Plan for 2020-21”, announced by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan on July 30.

Badger Superintendent-Principal Kevin Ricke and GMR Superintendent Larry Guggisberg responded to the state’s safety plan, and highlighted the steps their schools have taken and are looking to take as they prepare to open their buildings for in-person learning this fall.

Ricke said he anticipates in-person learning being recommended at next Monday’s Badger School Board meeting, as long as no significant outbreaks occur in Roseau County data reports this week.

“It looks like we should very well be in-person learning with all students at the start of the year,” Ricke said.

The GMR website homepage confirmed that it will open for in-person learning this fall for PreK to twelfth grade students.

Under the state’s safety plan, Minnesota schools will operate under one of three models: in-person, distance learning, or a hybrid model. Minnesota Department of Health and Education experts will partner with schools to decide on the best learning model for them to each begin under this fall. Viral activity in the county and the school’s ability to meet mitigation requirements will factor into the model each school goes with, according to a press release about the plan’s announcement from Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan.

To help districts determine the learning model used, the state provided recommended options based on the county’s 14-day case rate level per 10,000 people. To host in-person learning for all students, the state is recommending that schools fall in the 0 to less than 10 cases per 10,000 over 14 days by county of residence.

According to numbers provided by the Minnesota Department of Health, Roseau County sat at 12.93 cases per 10,000 between July 5 and July 18, placing it in the next category — the elementary in-person learning/middle school and high school hybrid learning category.

As for falling in the elementary in-person learning/middle school and high school hybrid learning category, Ricke explained how schools with smaller grade populations, such as his own one-section school, have more flexibility in this regard due to already falling within some of the “50 percent of capacity” guidelines for hybrid learning models without having to make any major adjustments.

“Our hybrid and in-school (models) are basically identical,” Ricke said, “because where we average right around 20 students per grade or a little bit less than that, we can stay (within) half of those fire marshal classroom capacities, half the bus capacity.”

Regardless of the model it falls into, Ricke said his district needs to be prepared for multiple possible outcomes.

“We need to be able to switch to hybrid learning if there’s an outbreak or cases go higher,” Ricke said. “And of course… if there’s an extreme outbreak, we have to be ready to go to distance learning.”

As part of its safety plan, the Minnesota Departments of Education and Health will work with schools and local health professionals during the school year to assist schools in deciding “if and when they need to dial between learning models depending on the progression and cause of the virus in their specific community,” according to the press release about the plan’s announcement from Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan.

Ricke did feel a sense of relief upon finding out his school could open for in-person instruction, especially as it relates to his district’s working parents.

“I think our parents during the second half of March through end of May were very accommodating and very Minnesota nice,” Ricke said. “And they said, ‘You know, this is hopefully a short term thing,’ but if they had to look at going into a full year of distance learning right out of the gate, and doing that all year, that would have been overwhelming.”

As for GMR, Guggisberg said, overall, it is “pretty excited” about opening for in-person learning.

“We’re going to open school in a normal fashion,” Guggisberg said, “with a number of safety precautions for our kids and for our teachers and our staff. And, we’re enthused.”

Guggisberg did highlight the results of a survey sent out to district families the week of July 13 that showed more parents in favor of sending their children to school for in-person learning. Out of 175 responses, just under 78 percent of parents answered “yes” to the question of whether they felt comfortable physically sending their children to school at GMR in a traditional school setting.

For those who don’t feel comfortable sending their child to a traditional school setting, as part of the state plan, Governor Walz is requiring schools to give families the option to go to distance learning no matter what model their school implements.

To learn more about the state’s Safe Learning Plan for 2020-21, visit the following link: mn.gov/covid19/for-minnesotans/safe-learning-plan/overview.jsp

To see the complete story, including some of the precautions each school has put in place or is looking to put in place, read the August 5 issue of The Tribune in print or online.

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