The COVID-19 pandemic continues to test all of us—from how we care for ourselves and our family’s health to how we adjust to ever-changing information, requirements, and projections at school, in the workplace, and throughout the community. I’m grateful that so many people in the Forest Lake area have faced these unprecedented challenges with grace and compassion. At Lakes International Language Academy, our students, staff, and parents have worked together to keep our unique learning environment safe, engaging, and productive. (Thank you!)

Our leadership team has monitored more recent COVID reports with concern, especially with the holidays ahead. On November 10, the LILA board of directors approved the leadership team’s recommendation to move to Distance Learning for our Upper School students in grades 6-12, from Tuesday, December 1, through Friday, January 15.

For now, we plan to maintain our current model for LILA Kinder Prep Preschool and Lower School grades K-5. The preschoolers and elementary-aged students stay in their classroom cohorts all day long, even eating lunch and taking recess in their same small groups—unlike Upper School students who necessarily mix and mingle as they move from classroom to classroom.

During the upcoming Distance Learning period, LILA Upper School teachers will once again be able to address their entire class via online tools, providing real-time instruction and support opportunities. Any students who require school-based special education services or who have previously been identified to receive additional in-person days in the hybrid model will continue to receive those in-person instruction days. We will also continue to offer meals to secondary students at no cost, and, so far, sports and activities may continue with safety protocols in place.

LILA’s Regional Support team, consisting of members from the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education as well as the Washington County Department of Health, agrees with these preventative measures to help minimize COVID cases. We believe thoughtful, proactive strategies communicated early can have the most impact on health and safety while allowing families and staff to prepare for upcoming changes and preserve the learning progress.

Perhaps because the LILA board of directors is comprised of LILA teachers and parents, plus one community member, we have an immediate and vested interest in making the right choices for our students—who are also our children. So, what’s right? For whom? When? Of course, there are no easy answers.

LILA’s leadership team has adopted a specific decision process to guide us, based on infection rates, staff and student illness rates, staffing availability (particularly a challenge for language-specific immersion instruction), facility and busing concerns, and input from public health officials, parents, staff, and students.

The anticipated COVID infection surge in the weeks following the holidays and the winter break are based on previous jumps in the two weeks after Labor Day and the two weeks after the mid-October break (MEA weekend). As a school, LILA can’t control what happens outside of our buildings, but we can take responsibility to plan for it.

LILA encourages families to avoid large holiday gatherings this year, wear masks, and regularly wash hands. We look forward to welcoming our Upper School students back to hybrid learning on Tuesday, January 19. We have selected that date to allow enough time for any holiday-related COVID transmissions to be identified and run their course before bringing our students and staff back into classrooms.

Until then, we wish everyone in the community safe and healthy holidays.

Shannon Peterson is the Executive Director of Lakes International Language Academy.

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