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Based on data provided in the Safe Learning Plan for 2020-2021 released by the state of Minnesota on July 30, local school districts are preparing to have students back in the classroom beginning in September.

The Safe Learning Plan outlines resources and supports that are available to school districts and charter schools for the upcoming school year. The plan was developed based on guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health.

The purpose of the plan is to “ensure that every student in the state of Minnesota receives an equitable education and has equal access to learning and instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Safe Learning Plan goals include:

• Prioritize the safety of students and staff.

• Prioritize in-person learning, especially for younger learners.

• Consider infectiousness and transmission risk among different ages.

• Support planning, while permitting flexibility for districts.

• Take into account disease prevalence at a local level.

“I followed three principles as I worked with the Departments of Education and Health on a plan for the 2020-21 school year,” Gov. Tim Walz wrote in a letter released with the Safe Learning Plan. “First, our top priority was the safety, health, and well-being of students, staff, and families. Second, we continue to make data-driven decisions, leaning on science and research to make the best decisions for our state. And finally, we would respect the importance of local school districts, their expertise of their unique communities, and their commitment to making the best decisions for their students. That is why we are taking a localized, data-driven approach to the 2020-21 school year that will put student and staff safety first. By bringing together the local education leaders who know their students, staff, and communities the best, and the public health experts who know the virus the best, this plan will help determine a learning model that makes the most sense for each community.”

Walz indicated no matter which scenario districts implement, whether it’s in person learning, hybrid learning or distance learning, all districts are still required to offer a distance learning option for their students.

On July 22, Walz signed an executive order requiring face coverings in all indoor public spaces in Minnesota, including K-12 school buildings. The state of Minnesota will provide the following supplies to all public schools:

• Every K-12 student will receive one cloth face covering.

• Every school staff member will receive one cloth face covering.

• Every school will receive three disposable face masks per student.

• Every school will receive face shields for all licensed teachers and 50% of non-licensed staff.

Based on the data provided by MDH regarding the 14-day COVID-19 case rate by county, schools within both Isanti and Chisago counties can implement an in-person learning model for all students since the 14-day case rate per 10,000 people is less than 10. However, all districts have indicated the COVID-19 cases will be monitored, and even though at the moment they are planning for in-person learning, that model may change if the area sees an increase in COVID-19 cases.

As of Aug. 4, Chisago County has 182 confirmed COVID-19 cases and one death, while Isanti County has 110 confirmed cases and no deaths.

Cambridge-Isanti Public Schools

In a letter sent to Cambridge-Isanti School District families on July 30, Superintendent Nate Rudolph said C-I is planning on having students back in school.

“We have been working in partnership with the Isanti County Health Department in our planning. Based on the guidelines provided by Minnesota Departments of Health and Education, Isanti Public Health has advised us that C-I Schools should return to in-person instruction this fall, barring any local spike in COVID cases,” Rudolph said. “Isanti County currently has a low rate of positive COVID cases, and we will be implementing strict health and safety protocols. We hope these strict protocols will allow us to stay in school this year.”

Rudolph said the district has been working since March and continuing since school got out in June, to build the three models required by the Department of Education. Over the summer months, the district has had approximately 20 teams composed of all stakeholder groups helping to plan for the fall. These groups have been focused on creating a district version of all three scenarios as directed by the Minnesota Department of Education that included in-person learning, a hybrid model and a 100% virtual model (distance learning).

“On Thursday, during the governor’s press conference, we were fortunate to be together with the Isanti Public Health Department, our teacher leaders, and our planning teams, which enabled us to make some early determinations about the base model that we currently qualify for. We are thankful for the partnership and collaboration of our local teams,” Rudolph said.

“Our plan prioritizes student and staff health and safety and getting kids back in school in accordance with the local data. Based on current public health data (which is reevaluated weekly), C-I Schools currently qualify for implementing scenario 1 (in-person learning) as a base model for the fall. The county public health numbers will guide our learning plans all school year. At this moment, we are planning to open in-person, but if there is a rise in cases we are preparing to move between the three plans: in-person, hybrid, and distance learning as required.

“We are filled with gratitude for every person in our community who is practicing physical distancing and working to slow the spread of the coronavirus. We know in-person learning is best for children, and the number of COVID cases is low enough at this time that we can plan to get kids back in school,” Rudolph said.

Cambridge-Isanti Schools will be releasing its Return to Learning plan later this week, which will offer more detailed information.

North Branch Area Public Schools

On Friday, July 31, North Branch Superintendent Sara Paul posted a message on the district’s website.

“Yesterday, Governor Walz announced a public health framework that allows local school districts to determine how to return to school this fall,” Paul wrote. “The Governor’s message is consistent with our draft plans and approach using our Flexible Learning Continuum. We will now use our continuum and the Governor’s framework to determine how best to begin the 2020-21 school year.”

Paul explained the plan for returning to school in September includes two options for families to choose from:

• Distance Learning Academy for K-12 students, Monday through Friday.

• An in-school option for all K-12 students, Monday through Friday. Continued Youth Connections programming and early learning options.

On Thursday, Aug. 6, the North Branch School Board will discuss details of the district’s Return to Learn plan. The meeting will be held at the North Branch Area Education Center in the large gym, beginning at 5:30 p.m. A podcast of the meeting will be shared on the website on Friday, Aug. 7.

The district will communicate with families on Aug. 7 about the details of the two options moving forward.

“Thank you for your patience as we navigate these times and create a plan that is based on data while providing safe options for students, families and staff,” Paul wrote.

Braham Area Public Schools

Braham Superintendent Ken Gagner explained the school year will start in person as scheduled under the following conditions:

• K-12 students and staff will be required to wear masks unless meeting certain requirements. One cloth mask will be provided to every child. Masks will be available if children forget.

• All bus riding students (any age) are required to wear masks unless meeting certain requirements.

• Routines to increase student safety will be implemented.

• Students who are sick must stay home.

“Deciding to start the school year in-person was certainly a challenging decision and one based on many factors. The board weighed those factors and using the guidance from the Governor’s office, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education, the board decided to proceed as advised,” Gagner said. “Currently ISD No. 314 falls within the 0-9 range and therefor the recommendation is to start school in-person. We very much appreciate the patience of all those impacted by this decision and all of us need to be reminded that our nation and communities have lived through difficult times before and we’ll get through this as well. We all are marching toward the same goal (doing what is best for our children) and we’re going to make that happen no matter the circumstances.”

Gagner explained a distance learning option will be available for any enrolled students who may be medically vulnerable or otherwise unwilling to return to in-person instruction.

“With so many layers involved in this decision I encourage any concerned resident to give me a call to answer your questions based on the circumstances you are experiencing,” Gagner said. “Know that we have great people hired who are working tirelessly - and have been over the entire summer - to make sure 2020-2021 is another great school year!”

Rush City Area Public Schools

Rush City Schools interim Superintendent Brent Stavig explained, based on the data provided by MDH, Rush City could go with an in-person learning model but distance learning will also be greatly enhanced.

“Currently, the Chisago County rate is 5.85 and the Pine County rate is 2.75, therefore, it would be acceptable to have in-person learning if we were starting school today,” Stavig said. “This data will change over time and will help guide our delivery model. Please keep in mind that families may choose distance learning regardless of the scenario the district is implementing.”

Stavig said schools must follow the mask mandate as it applies to students in kindergarten through grade 12. The state has committed to providing regional support teams to assist districts as needed. They will be providing masks for students and staff, and they will assist with COVID-19 testing if necessary.

“We will use this additional guidance to continue to refine our plans and ensure we are fully prepared for a safe and successful fall,” Stavig said. “We are fortunate to have an amazing community, wonderful students, strong and caring staff, and a school board who is dedicated to doing what is best for our students. It’s the people who make this community special. We will continuously monitor, gather feedback, and adapt to ensure we are offering opportunities that meet the needs of all families.”

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