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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

ISD 696

Ely school district faces three learning options this fall

Evolving coronavirus pandemic will dictate levels of safety required

Keith Vandervort
Posted 6/25/20

ELY - State health and education officials last week released guidance to help Minnesota’s public schools plan for the coming school year, but the future track of the coronavirus outbreak …

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ISD 696

Ely school district faces three learning options this fall

Evolving coronavirus pandemic will dictate levels of safety required


ELY - State health and education officials last week released guidance to help Minnesota’s public schools plan for the coming school year, but the future track of the coronavirus outbreak will dictate what happens this fall.
School board members here met in a teleconference study session Monday night to discuss their options.
“A formal decision on whether schools will open is likely to come in the last week of July,” said Ray Marsnik, Ely school board chair. “Because of the evolving nature of the (coronavirus) pandemic, it makes it difficult to give schools specific direction at this time.”
The state Education Department said it strongly recommends all school districts and charter schools create three distinct contingency plans for each of three possible scenarios for the start of the school year this fall.
“It’s possible state school leaders will start the year with one scenario and then ask all schools, only select schools, or even different facilities in the same district, to switch to a different scenario part way through the academic year, depending on how widespread the coronavirus becomes in the fall,’” said ISD 696 Superintendent Erik Erie.
Those scenarios are:
1) All children return to school buildings and in-person classes on Tuesday, Sept. 8.
2) No children return to school buildings for in-person classes. Instead, all students will engage in distance learning.
3) Employ a hybrid of these two options with both in-person classes and distance learning.
State officials have said they will release details about what form the upcoming academic year will take by July 27.
Minnesota schools have been closed since mid-March and switched to distance learning for the rest of the school year. Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order in May allowing K-12 schools to open their doors to students for a hybrid model of in-person and distance learning this summer.
“We all know that our families are anxious to know which scenario we will use in the fall, so we will be working on this,” Marsnik said.
“We are planning for all three scenarios,” Erie said. “We may need to move between those scenarios at any time. You could have schools within the same district where one is in distance learning and the other is in-person.”
Erie said state school and health officials “expect viral transmission to continue” and are calling for all three learning scenarios to be developed. Additional guidance for special education and student transportation is forthcoming.
He said that Ely school administrators agree that getting students back into the classroom “is the ideal situation” for students. “The hybrid learning model could involve social distance and capacity limits within buildings, similar to what restaurants are doing right now,” Erie noted. “That could mean that we have half of our students in the building at any one time.”
Distance learning could look different from what students and families experienced this past spring, according to Erie.
“We will look at how we can improve on what we did last spring, and what we learned from that experience,” he said. “We will be surveying parents, students and staff on how we can improve on the distance learning model.”
The ISD 696 administration team met with teachers and staff on Monday to begin discussions on how the various scenarios will affect students and staff.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Erie said. “We need to get our buildings ready again for students and staff. We are looking at how we arrange the classrooms to make sure they are ready for the students in any of the scenarios.”
Food service is also a big consideration for the upcoming school year.
“We may end up delivering food to classrooms, rather than having students go down to the cafeteria because it is not practical to disinfect for every single grade level (in the cafeteria),” he said.
He also noted that student transportation could see some changes this fall.
“On a 77-pasenger bus, how many people can we have (under social distance guidelines)?” he asked. He noted that bus routes and times could see changes.
“We are anxious to see what guidelines we get at the end of July,” Erie said. “The biggest precautions are for people, and making sure that we are using face masks, disinfecting our facility, and making sure we have social distance guidelines in place.”
Marsnik stressed that student grading protocols should evolve with the learning scenarios that could be in place this fall.
“MDE (Minnesota Department of Education) recommends that districts involve teachers, parents and students in the review and revision of a grading system this fall,” he said. “We have to be as transparent as possible.”
Erie said surveys will be conducted to gain more information as grading systems are revised going into the 2020-21 school year.
Marsnik said the cost to the Ely school district for implementing new or unprecedented learning systems will undoubtedly impact the budget.
“According to the Association of School Business Officials, this could cost around $500 per pupil to carry out everything that is required,” he said. “We are looking at adhering to health monitoring and cleaning protocols, hiring staff to implement safety protocols, providing personal protection equipment, and providing transportation and child care. For us, we are looking at about $300,000 over and above our expenses.”
Marsnik also noted his concern with the ventilation systems in the Ely school buildings. “Our system is not the best in this school. As far as our air exchange, it is not good at all,” he said. “My hope is that we get this addressed if we do pass our bonding referendum. It is very critical, during a pandemic, to limit airborne transmission.”
I don’t know if our ventilation system has the capability to do that or if it can be modified in any way to make it more safe. This is something that is on my mind.”

What do parents think?
Just more than half of American parents with children ranging from kindergarten to 12th grade favor a return to in-person school attendance this fall, according to a Gallup poll released last Thursday.
• 56 percent of 1,200 parents surveyed supported a return to full-time, in-person schooling,  compared to part-time instruction (37 percent) or remote learning (7 percent) options.
• 37 percent said they would prefer a hybrid program, where students attend in-person classes on a part-time basis and make up the rest with distance learning.
• 7 percent of respondents supported continuing the full-time remote learning many schools turned to during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The overwhelming support for at least some in-person instruction may indicate the strain placed on American households during the pandemic, as many parents worked from home and were left without childcare as children needed help to complete schoolwork.
Concern over the COVID-19 virus appears to be a major indicator of how parents feel about sending their children back to school, with respondents who say they are less bothered by the virus more likely to support schools reopening than parents who are worried about their children becoming infected.
Source: Minnesota Public Radio 


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