Like many of you, I have great hope for the new year, and for our schools, staff and students. For many months, we have struggled together to adapt and stay safe during a worldwide pandemic, doing our best to make sense of expert guidance and new regulations. With a vaccine in production, and initial doses already provided to health care workers, we have hope that the next several months will bring about the return to normal we’ve all been waiting for.

We’re not there yet, however, and our schools will continue to see a big impact from COVID-19 for many weeks to come.

Since the beginning of the school year, our priority has been to have students in school as much as possible without compromising staff and student safety. We have been able to accomplish both goals throughout most of this school year, although the winter virus surge temporarily put our students in distance learning.

With new guidance from the state, we have announced a phased return to in-person learning for our elementary students, beginning mid-January. We are also working toward getting our middle school and high school students back into our buildings, as soon as community case numbers and state guidance allows.

We are excited to welcome our students back to their classrooms. While we’re hopeful for a steady decrease in COVID-19 cases as vaccine distribution ramps up, we also know that we still have a long way to go with this pandemic.

One of the key challenges in the COVID -19 era has been in our ability to keep staff available for in-person work. Before we transitioned to distance learning in November, our district was facing many challenges relating to staff members who were sick or needing to quarantine due to exposure to COVID-19. In many cases, the exposure was happening outside of our schools, showing the key impact of community spread on our ability to successfully operate schools.

I would ask that all of us do our part to help minimize the spread of COVID-19 in our community. If we all do our best to avoid large events, limit the group size of our social gatherings and continue following CDC and state guidance, it will be a significant help to our district’s efforts to keep teachers and students at school.

Now more than ever, I appreciate the efforts and support of our community, and the enthusiasm for keeping students in school. It is clear that our community shares our desire to provide a quality education for each student. As we ring in the new year, I am looking forward to a time where COVID-19 does not cast a shadow over our schools, and we can all work together toward this goal.

Steve Massey is the superintendent of Forest Lake Area Schools.

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