(Editor’s note: The following questions have been the Top 5 questions fielded in the Elk River Area School District in the wake of some recent announcements. Superintendent Dan Bittman shared them at the Nov. 9 Elk River Area School Board meeting.)

Do middle and high school students need to be on the computer all day every day?

“We don’t need students to be on the computer every day and all day,” Bittman said. “There are increased accountability measures we are putting forth. We also know there are opportunities for increased flexibility.

“There are a number of students who are doing exceptionally well in the distance learning or hybrid model, and we don’t want to have to change what’s working for them.

“There also a number of students not being accountable for their learning, who are sleeping in and not completing homework. Those students are going to need to engage, they are going to need to check in for every class. Teachers are going to be available every hour to go through lessons and provide direction.

“The community will see in the guidance that goes out that says if you need flexibility with attendance, work with your teacher. We don’t want to get in the way of what’s working or jobs or other things as well.”

Can the district consider bringing some students back to school. (i.e. students with special needs)?

“The answer is yes, we are doing that,” Bittman said. “We are bringing a number of students back to our buildings, even in the distance learning model, for three, four days a week.

“That’s based on individual needs and (Individualized Education Plans). That’s what these students need for the best support.”

Is it likely that our elementary students will go to distance learning?

“The answer is I just don’t know,” Bittman said. “I think you are going to see over the next 48 hours or the next several weeks a number of school districts are going to go to distance learning K-12.

“We believe that we’re going to do everything we can to keep kids in school ... as long as we are able to supervise, get kids on the bus, serve meals. (If we can’t, then we have to go to a Plan B.)

“We will try the hybrid model.”

Is it likely that our secondary students will return at the end of January or in February?

“We just don’t know,” Bittman said. “Public health officials are not optimistic, because of the trends we are seeing. The numbers (of cases and quarantines) are going to increase with the holidays. Plus, there’s a lag (in the reporting of numbers.)

“We are hopeful. We will continue to update the community.”

Why can’t schools just stay open and use substitutes when staff are out?

“We don’t have enough substitutes,” Bittman said. “We’re filling about 15 to 25% of a number of our substitute positions. So we don’t have people to come in and drive bus, serve food, supervise classes. This is one of the big reasons we are moving to distance learning in secondary.

“I will say anyone who is interested in being a substitute, there’s information on being a sub on our website.

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