By Craig Moorhead

The Caledonia Argus

The ISD 299 Board of Education met on Tuesday, Jan. 19, learning how students and teachers  “barring unforeseen circumstances” are expected to return to the classroom in the wake of COVID-19 restrictions.

Superintendent Craig Ihrke reported that phase one of the plan is already in place. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade have now returned to school, while grades 7-12 remain in distance learning, but have the opportunity to attend school one day per week.

Phase two is expected to begin on January 25. Ihrke said that if all goes well, in-person school will continue for K-6 classes, while grade 7-12 students will be able to attend school two days per week. Half of the student body can attend on “black” days, while the other half can attend classes on the “gold” days. Monday and Tuesday will be set aside for one group, while Thursday and Friday will be ready for the other. Wednesday will remain a distance learning day.

“This will allow students who need help, a place to work, some personal contact, etc., to have those needs met,” Ihrke noted. “It also will allow students who don’t require it to stay home and continue to distance learn.”

When Houston County sees a COVID case rate of 50 or below, phase three can begin. That rate is based on total cases per 10,000 persons. Ihrke said that the rate was close (51) on January 14, but the present rate was 77.4 “as we have seen a post holiday spike.” 

Once again “barring unforeseen circumstances,” classes for K-6 students will remain in person during phase three. Grades 7-12 “Will come back to school in a hybrid fashion exactly like they were engaged in prior to Thanksgiving...” Ihrke said. Wednesday will remain a distance learning day for grades 7-12, while black and gold groups will all be attending on their respective days. “This will not be distance learning any longer and students will not have an option of attending virtually on their designated days,” he added. “We would have the full 50% of students attending on those days in grades 7-12.”

The timeline for phase four remains unclear, but all students will once again attend in-person classes Monday through Friday when that occurs.

Ihrke also reported that “There are smaller districts who can split up already small classes and create a safer environment than we can in Caledonia. Comparing Caledonia’s learning model to other schools is not an apples-to-apples comparison...

“We fully understand there is still a risk if the county case rate is at, or below 50, but that is the number we have identified as a point at which rewards outweigh risks.”

City engineer asks for support 

Matt Mohs of Bolton & Menk, who serves as Caledonia’s city engineer, talked to the board about extending Warrior Avenue northward to Highway 76.

The roadway would only need to lengthened by some 950 feet to link up with the trunk highway, Mohs stated. The City of Caledonia is seeking a State of Minnesota grant of up to $1.25 million through the Local Road Improvement Program to help make that happen. “As far as making a good application (for funding), we don’t have to have all the answers right now,” he added. “The driver behind the project, the idea, is safety and congestion... In talking with city staff and talking with superintendent Ihrke, I’m quite aware of the problems that are in play right now, and what this road extension could do to help alleviate some of those problems.”

The engineer said that the school owns land that would become the right of way for the project, so having a statement of support from the district would be an important part of the application, which is due by March 3.

“The ask is not for swinging the deal, so to speak, tonight on how that would transfer (the right of way) if the district is in support of this site,” he noted. “(But) we would very much look forward to having an assurance in place that the district is working in concert with the city on the transfer of right of way so that this project could be constructed.”

“I think there’s probably a lot more pluses there than minuses,” member Spencer Yohe said. Board members discussed some of those potential pros and cons from the roadway project (such as the need for safe street crossings, and current congestion issues), and decided to place the topic on their February “action items” agenda. 

Other news

The school board formally approved the formation of a Diversity Club at the high school. Social studies teacher Robbie Sobczak said that the new club, which will be affiliated with the school, currently has 11 students who are interested in joining, plus a couple of staff members. 

“I think that this is a great opportunity for our students who are going to be involved, and the ability that they’re going to have to touch the lives of other students within our school district,” Middle/High School principal Nathan Boler said. “Obviously, we’re well aware of the climate that’s going on around the United States right now. Just having the opportunity for people to express themselves and be able to understand other people on a deeper level is really important.”  

The first meeting of new the club will take place on February 3. For more on the Diversity Club, check out a recent article posted at entitled: “New Diversity Club at CHS aims for education, inclusiveness.”

The board also accepted the resignation of  junior high wrestling coach Jeff Winjum with thanks for his years of service to the district in that position. In other personnel news, Holly Moenck and Erin Burns were hired as part-time special education para instructors. Winter sports (wrestling) contracts were also approved for junior high coaches Travis Frank, John Wahlstrom, and Justin Conway.

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