by Jim Boyle
Superintendent Dan Bittman followed up a report on student leadership awards with an update on COVID-19 as it relates to the school district and community, during the Nov. 9 Elk River Area School Board meeting.
He joked it was a tough act to follow and he quipped he should consider the order of the agenda for future meetings.
“We have so much to celebrate with our kids,” he said. “You will continue to hear ... they just want to be in school. We’re working really hard to make sure our kids have those opportunities.”
District 728 secondary school students in grades 6-12, however, will return to the distance learning model on Monday, Nov. 16.
And District 728 elementary school students, who enjoyed face-to-face learning Mondays through Fridays, are switching to the hybrid model middle and high school students started the 2020-21 school year on.
Distance learning for the older grades does have the potential to be more fluid than it was from mid-March of 2020 to the end of the school year, but there are no promises.
There will be deviations at the outset and some changes could happen as time goes on.
“We are bringing a number of students back to our buildings, even in the distance learning model, for three, four days a week,” Bittman said. “That’s based on individual needs and (Individualized Education Plans). That’s what these students need for the best support.”
School Board directors Tony Walters and Joel Nelson asked about seniors, Career Technical Education students and others.
Bittman said such matters and others have been and will continue to be examined.
“The answer is yes,” Bittman said, “if and when we deem it’s safe and we agree it’s most important.”
The big questions are when and to what degree.
“We continue to modify and adjust,” Bittman said. “What you will see is we will start off a certain way as we get better and better and we learn more and more, we will continue to bring kids back. And if we have staff to do so, that will (help) to bring some kids back.”
Bittman said life in Minnesota and across the country continues to be a challenge. He highlighted the latest data and trends:
•The number of confirmed cases will continue to increase.
•Individuals who have been “in close contact” and needing to quarantine will continue to increase.
•Available staff in every titled position in the district and every other district will continue to decrease.
•The number of elementary and secondary schools across the state and country that will be forced to move to distance learning will continue to increase over the next few months.
•Students and families needing support (i.e. academically, nutritionally, economically, mentally, etc.) will increase.
“They need us,” Bittman “This is an opportunity for us to lead, ... to do everything we can to support our kids and families. This is an awesome responsibility.”
The question, Bittman said, is how the district can respond.
“We need to continue to communicate, communicate, communicate, be open, honest, and transparent,” Bittman said. “We have to be willing to modify and adjust plans regularly. We don’t get to control all the factors. We need to make the best decisions we can with the information we have available, recognizing it is changing quickly and often.
“We also need to recognize that for every person who is excited about a change, there is another that it creates anxiety. We need to give grace and be part of the solution and continue to be open to that.”
One key will be to assume positive intent to support and serve the people amongst the schools, classrooms and community, Bittman said.
He noted at the end of his report that he would be remiss if he didn’t mention he gave his cabinet members the night off after they spent 16 hours on the weekend working on COVID-19 cases.
“I couldn’t in good faith have them back tonight,” he said. “This is one opportunity for them to catch their breath.”