Elementary school learners will be the first students to return to in-person learning

Forest Lake Area Schools will begin reopening procedures as the district prepares to have students in the classroom by Jan. 19. Elementary age learners will be the first students who return to in-person learning. Students have not been in the classroom since before Thanksgiving. 

Superintendent Steve Massey delivered an update on the district’s plan on reopening after Gov. Time Walz made an announcement last month that districts should prioritize their youngest learners when reopening. 

The district is taking the advice of the governor and bringing back its youngest learners first, and will have to return grades to the classroom no more than three at a time and show that they can have the students back safely in order to bring back more grades. 

Currently, the Forest Lake Area School District plans to have grades pre-K-3 back on Jan. 19. The next set of grades, 4-6, will return to the classroom on Feb. 1, as long as everything goes to plan. 

While they are only allowed to bring back three grades at a time, according to Massey the district lobbied to bring back pre-K and kindergarten along with grades 1-3, stating that they could do so safely. 

The Minnesota Department of Health and Education has released updated guidelines on what districts should be looking at to determine what school model they are in. Whereas before the second state shutdown, districts would mainly look at county and zip-code specific data, they are now being told not to rely as heavily on that data to determine whether to remain open or closed. 

Now districts will look at a number of factors along with county case data, including test positivity rate, local case data, school-level cases, ability to staff, and a handful of other factors. 

Looking at these factors, the district feels they are in a safe space to begin the process of returning students to in-person learning. 

Massey also shared the district will be doing a number of things to help keep students safe and continue to service those who are at home. One thing that will be implemented is a hotline that students can use when they get stuck on an assignment or simply need someone to talk to. Students can call and get help from a teacher who is dedicated to that position solely. 

“We’re excited about that added service that we are able to roll in and layover our elementary roll in,” Massey said. 

During the meeting the district did not have a plan to bring back their secondary learners; however, in a release to parents on Jan. 11 it announced middle and high school students will make their way back to the classroom this month. 

Middle and high school students will not have class on Jan. 25 or 26 in preparation for grades 7, 8, 10, 11, and 12’s return to hybrid learning on Jan. 27. Students in grade 9 will return on Feb. 8 due to the district only being able to bring back three grades to a building at a time and the necessity of completing graduation requirements that the older grades have. 

In the release to parents, Massey said that hybrid learning at the high school and middle school will use the same schedule that was followed in the fall. “Regardless of where they are learning, students will participate in learning during every class every day,” Massey said in the message to parents. 

At the end of his report, Massey took the time to thank all of the staff that has continued to work more than what is required of them for this school year. 

“A huge shout out to our staff across our school district,” Massey said. “That includes our custodial staff, bus drivers, service staff, paraprofessionals, administrative assistants, our nursing staff, of course, who are still busy supporting kids and families, and of course our teachers and educators across the board. No one has worked harder than they have this year.”  

Other news

The school board officially swore in its four members who ran unopposed for reelection in November. Jeff Peterson, Julie Corcoran, Robert Rapheal, and Gail Theisen all retained their seats on the school board. 

The board also voted on their positions with the board. With no disagreements while choosing, the board has decided that Peterson will remain president, Jill Olson will be vice president, Kate Luthner will remain clerk, and Corcoran will remain treasurer.

Luthner brought attention to the fact that the board was able to decide on their nominations so easily without speaking about it outside of their board meetings. 

“I appreciate that as a board we function very well and are getting comfortable in our roles enough to move forward with it,” Luthner said. 

The district is also set to begin demolition on the Community Learning Center in February, and it has also started to hear bids from different construction companies for the sports complex project that is projected to begin sometime this spring.

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