REGIONAL- In years past, ISD 2142 school board members haven’t scheduled a working session in June, but the situation surrounding the novel coronavirus has made this year anything but …
REGIONAL- In years past, ISD 2142 school board members haven’t scheduled a working session in June, but the situation surrounding the novel coronavirus has made this year anything but typical.
So the board convened Tuesday to look at issues related to operations for the upcoming 2020-21 school year, with most of the discussion driven in one manner or another by the limited direction from the state Department of Education as to what to expect in August.
Superintendent Reggie Engebritson said she’s received word that the state will issue guidelines next week that will propose three possible scenarios district should be planning for – all students returning to classes as normal, continuation of the distance education model used for the final two months of the year just completed, or a hybrid model of education that would combine elements of onsite and distance education.
“The state department said there is a possibility we could use all three next year,” Engebritson said. “They will tell us the week of July 27 what we will start the school year with.”
Engebritson reported that she has been meeting with other superintendents in the region to share plans, and that following a meeting last Friday with 22 Range superintendents she wrote a letter to the state Department of Education asking for them to give districts more leeway to respond to local conditions.
“If the virus really isn’t hitting us up here, we’d like to have more local control for our districts,” Engebritson said.
Board president Dan Manick reinforced Engebritson’s position.
“We don’t want anybody in danger, none of us do. Nobody knows where this thing is going yet,” he said. “What we do best is teach our kids in our buildings. We have to be able to have control ourselves.”
Engebritson discussed several ideas generated by principals in a brainstorming session about what a hybrid approach could entail, such as having all elementary students return in smaller class sizes while high school students continue in a distance learning mode but come to school at least once a week.
“There’s talk about having their meals in their classrooms, having the music teacher go to each class so you have less movement, having less kids out at recess time,” she said. “We’ll know more next week when they send the guidelines.”
However, Engebritson said that although ideas have been generated, no decisions have been made about what school might look like in the fall because there hasn’t been any guidance from the state.
Board members once again discussed a plan for compensating coaches in the event seasons are shortened or canceled. While there was general consensus around not paying coaching stipends if seasons are canceled before practices begin, they were less certain how they would handle mid-season changes.
Engebritson distributed guidance from the Minnesota School Boards Association that outlined an option for paying coaches based on activities that they actually completed and hours devoted to them, an approach which would entail detailed recordkeeping.
Board member Christine Taylor offered an alternative in which a coaching stipend would be divided by the total number of days in a particular sport season, yielding a daily per diem amount. Coaches would be paid that daily amount for the number of season days completed. As this was a working meeting, no action could be taken on the alternatives until the formal June meeting.
Engebritson asked the board to consider allowing her to join in collaboration discussions initiated by Hibbing, Nashwauk-Keewatin, Chisholm, and Floodwood. Hibbing previously sent a letter to area districts seeking input on possible sports collaborations, but the initiative has been expanded to look at how collaboration might benefit all areas of education.
The collaborative has partial funding from IRRR, and collaborating districts will pay an additional fee to retain a facilitator for the process. Engebritson said Mt. Iron-Buhl, where she also is superintendent, is joining the collaborative, and if ISD 2142 were to join the fee would be $2,500. Members agreed to entertain a formal proposal at the next business meeting.
Before the meeting adjourned, several members expressed interest in continuing to have school board meetings accessible by Zoom or some other format.
“I like having it easily available to the public,” Taylor said. “If we’re here to serve people I don’t think it should be hard for people to participate in democracy.”
Board member Troy Swanson agreed.
“With our district being so large, you can get more people involved with board meetings in this format,” he said. “They don’t have to drive to Virginia or Tower or North Woods.”
Members asked Engebritson to research state statutes and other guidance to determine the parameters under which using an interactive online platform such as Zoom would be permissible once the current state of emergency imposed to combat the coronavirus pandemic expires.