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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Board reviews ISD 2142 back-to-school plans

Paraprofessional contract approved ahead of union vote

David Colburn
Posted 8/27/20

REGIONAL- St. Louis County School Board members reviewed the comprehensive plan for a return to in-person learning at a special working session on Aug. 19, with much of the discussion focused on …

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Board reviews ISD 2142 back-to-school plans

Paraprofessional contract approved ahead of union vote


REGIONAL- St. Louis County School Board members reviewed the comprehensive plan for a return to in-person learning at a special working session on Aug. 19, with much of the discussion focused on remote learning and social distancing.
The 31-page plan was posted to the district website Aug. 18, providing frameworks applicable across the district for health screenings, facility cleaning, learning and instruction, scheduling, space, facilities, training and education, community safety, and communications. Superintendent Reggie Engebritson reiterated that schools are utilizing the comprehensive plan to develop detailed plans specific to each school’s needs.
Engebritson said the district has been working to make distance learning more effective and learner-friendly.
“We tried to make a schedule so that students wouldn’t necessarily have to be on Zoom seven hours a day and have some time for instruction and some time for doing the work. The end goal is that it’s not such a big change for teachers if they go from in-person learning to hybrid learning.”
While academic standards were eased somewhat when distance learning was quickly implemented last spring in response to Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order related to COVID-19, Engebritson said students will be held to a more rigorous standard this year.
“There will be grades and expectations and assignments that are due,” she said.
If parents start with distance learning and decide to change to in-person learning, they may do so by providing two-days notice.
Board member Chris Koivisto asked how classrooms are being enabled for distance learning so that teachers can focus on teaching. Director of Teaching and Learning Kristi Berlin responded that teachers would have either an iPad or laptop to stream and record classes, and that an assessment was underway to ensure all classrooms were appropriately equipped.
Board member Christine Taylor pressed for more details about how the district is going to accomplish social distancing. She expressed concern that the board had not seen any illustrations showing that social distancing was possible in all cases, including in hallways during class changes and on buses.
Engebritson said that in the in-person learning model the district isn’t required to maintain six feet of distance between students, but that staff was working to maintain social distancing “to the best of our ability.” She reinforced that students and staff are required to wear masks, and that high school students were being allowed to carry backpacks to minimize the need to go to their lockers between classes.
Taylor also asked about the availability of audio systems in classrooms to ensure that students with hearing difficulties could hear teachers who would be wearing masks or face shields. Berlin said that not all schools were equipped with audio systems, but that face shields would allow teachers to enunciate and project sufficiently to accommodate those needs.
Taylor, who represents the area served by the South Ridge School, also expressed concern that the school’s proximity to the Duluth metro area with its much higher rate of COVID-19 infections might call into question the implementation of in-person learning at South Ridge.
“It’s one school out of five, I get it, but I want to make sure we’re keeping them as safe as possible, and that might mean we need to do a different system for South Ridge, and I want to know what that threshold is,” Taylor said.
Engebritson responded that each school will be assessed individually as the school year gets underway, and that the district would be prepared to shift the model in use at South Ridge if conditions warranted it. She also acknowledged Taylor’s concern and agreed to consult with county health officials about what measure the district should be using for South Ridge to determine the appropriate learning model.
When the board returned on Tuesday for its regular monthly meeting, Engebritson reported that county health officials said that the district should use the same 14-day average infection rate for all schools in the district.
Engebritson also reported that in response to questions from parents the district was developing a video to further explain how distance learning will be implemented.
Paraprofessional contract
Also, at Tuesday’s meeting, the board approved without discussion a contract covering paraprofessionals, teaching assistants, and six other related job classifications.
As discussed in prior meetings, the contract involves major changes in hours worked and compensation. Individuals in covered positions will have their work hours reduced from 31.5 hours per week to a four-day, 26-hour maximum schedule. The hourly pay has been adjusted upward to be equivalent to that in surrounding districts, with an initial starting wage of $16.03 per hour for paraprofessionals. Engebritson has said in the past that the increased wage will make the district more competitive in hiring for these positions.
The agreement also includes a clause that would make payment on all wage and benefit improvements retroactive to June 30, provided that the agreement is ratified by the union by Sept. 2. Engebritson said Tuesday that ratifying the agreement ahead of the union’s vote would enable the district to implement it immediately upon union approval, rather than having to wait for the September board meeting.
Meanwhile, in a personnel action on Tuesday, the board accepted without discussion the resignations of ten individuals from positions covered by the agreement. It is unknown what relation, if any, the resignations had to the contract revisions.
Prior to approving the Tuesday meeting agenda, an item seeking approval of a letter of agreement addressing compensation of coaches and co-curricular advisors was removed from consideration. The letter, which was included in the board packet, included proposed accommodations to changes made by the Minnesota State High School League in which certain sports, such as football, will have split seasons with practices in the fall and a shortened regular season in the spring.
In other business on Tuesday, the board:
• Approved a memorandum of understanding with Teamsters Local 346 removing the position of commodities distributor from the food service contract.
• Heard an updated report from Business Manager Kim Johnson regarding long-term facilities maintenance funds. Among the items projected in the budget were roof repairs to Tower-Soudan Elementary in fiscal year 2022 and work on athletic fields at North Woods School in fiscal year 2022 and 2023. The budget will be reviewed again at a future meeting.
• Placed North Woods teacher Amanda Pascuzzi on a part-time special assignment.
• Hired Dawn Niemi as a full-time independent education program assistant and Rebecca Smith as a substitute bus driver, both at North Woods.
• Recalled Title 1 teachers Amy Nelson and Nathaniel LeBeque at North Woods and Kathleen Meier at Tower-Soudan.
• Accepted resignations from North Woods paraprofessionals Jennifer Scofield, Kristine Benoit, Suzanne Holter, Jessica Gaskell, and Sydney Bell; North Woods independent education interventionist Liz Burton; North Woods teacher aide Larry Barnes; and Tower-Soudan assistant cook Yvette Lange.


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