Superintendent Steve Massey announces move following a skyrocketing in area cases

Forest Lake Area School District has announced that all elementary and middle school learners will be moved to full distance learning starting on Dec. 3. 

Superintendent Steve Massey shared the decision with the Forest Lake School Board in an emergency meeting on Thursday, Nov. 19, just one week after he said that all elementary schools and Forset Lake Area Middle School would stay in the hybrid models when the announcement was made the high was would be moving to distance learning. 

However, Massey and the district’s planning team decided that the jump to distance learning is necessary after Governor Tim Walz’s announcement on Nov. 18 and the COVID-19 case counts were made available.

“Over this last week we have seen a dramatic shift, quite honestly, with respect to managing the ever-changing circumstances related to COVID,” Massey said. “We have more students being quarantined at home for either being a close contact with a family member, somebody in their community, somebody on a sports team, or in some cases interacting with positive cases within our schools.” 

According to the two-week data that the district is provided by the Minnesota Department of Health Washington County currently has 118.9 per 10,000 residents, Anoka County has 138.96 and Chisago County has 156.96. The Safe Learning Plan that the Minnesota Department of Education and the MDH has provided districts recommends that all levels, both primary and secondary, should be participating in distance learning when case counts reach above 50. 

“We have hung on as long as we possibly can,” Massey said. “But we are clearly at a point that our staff just can’t be effective given all of the pressures and demands in all of these different settings that change within a given day.” 

Other information that led to Massey and the district’s planning team’s decision included staffing issues that the district has had. 

Currently one of the Elementary schools, which went unnamed, within the district has had 16 staff out and another had 11 at the time of the meeting. He also brought up that a week ago, one school had zero staff out and as of Nov. 19 the school had seven. 

“We are entering a stage of insurmountable staffing challenges,” Massey said.  

Massey’s last point was that within 24 hours prior to the board meeting, the district had 19 staff forced to be out for COVID-related reasons and three students out with positive cases. 

Distance Learning 2.0

Massey described what distance learning will look like for students and he believes that it will be completely different than what parents saw last year.

“All students will be interacting virtually and through live interactive lessons on a daily basis. Our goal is not to sustain learning but to advance learning,” Massey said. “It is our expectation, ambition, and hope that we move learning along in a similar fashion as we would if we were in-person learning.”

Students at the primary level will have live interactive lessons daily, whole group literacy and math lessons daily, and small group instruction scheduled throughout the week. Along with that students will also see the continuation of live interactive music, physical education, and innovation/media lessons. 

Middle school learners will continue with the content they have been learning, unchanged and students will follow the regular course schedule as if they were in-person. 

Massey stated that this has been worked on by the schools planning team since the summer in case this were to happen.“Our goal from the very beginning was the safety of our students and staff as a first and primary priority but also maximizing in-person student learning to the fullest extent possible given the data we were given,” Massey said. 

The district will continue to monitor COVID case counts within the counties it serves and will plan to reevaluate the current model at the Jan. 22 date it has set. 

“I will stress that our goal is to return to in-person learning in some fashion as soon as it is safe and realistic and feasible to do so,” Massey said. “We set the date of Jan. 22 so that we can lock that in, get us through the holidays and buy ourselves a couple of weeks after the winter break holiday. We will assess and evaluate at that time if it’s safe to return and we’ll consider all of this data to determine whether it’s safe to return.” 

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