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Every school in the Forest Lake Area School District will be moving to a distance learning model beginning Thursday, Dec. 16 through Christmas break. (A distance learning day had previously been approved by the school board for Thursday, Dec. 23.)

The move is due to a breakdown with the district’s transportation system due to the ongoing shortage of bus drivers. 

“We didn’t feel it was feasible to be able to get our kids to school with the number of routes we’d have to cancel,” superintendent Steve Massey said.

The district currently has five open routes not covered by a dedicated driver, and staff illnesses have played a big role in the district’s struggle to operate routes. An increasing number of bus routes have been canceled over the past several weeks. The situation took a turn for the worse this week with the district anticipating a third of its routes would not be able to be covered by a bus driver by Thursday.

“We’re in a very challenging time with trying to keep the district operation moving forward for the benefit of our kids. I’m grateful and thankful for the effort we’ve been able to make so far with drivers and subs across the district. Unfortunately, we reached a critical stage in our transportation system where we just couldn’t make it work,” Massey said.

Over the past several weeks, parents have dropped off children at school if they are able, but a problem for the district has been the amount of traffic congestion. With the number of bus routes anticipated to be canceled this week, it was a key issue that forced the move to distance learning, Massey said.

“It is really complicated. If you remove the buses and ask families to drive their kids, it becomes a real challenge for some who aren’t going to be able to get their kids to school, but if a large number of families drive their kids, that’ll be a real challenge for drop off and pick up,” Massey said.

Massey said he knows parents will now have to find childcare or juggle distance learning themselves, again, last minute.

“I understand the challenges and frustration. But at the same time, if I can’t get kids to school, I don’t know we had a better option,” Massey said.

Massey said that the cancelation will not affect student activities, such as sports, music, theater, or other events. Children in School Age Care (SAC) will also have childcare available to them as usual. 

Lunches for students will be available for pickup at each of the buildings, and the principal of those buildings will be in communication with parents about how to access those lunches.

 

Charter schools

The cancellation of all bus routes also affects students at Lakes International Language Academy and North Lakes Academy, both of which contract with the district for bussing services.

LILA will continue with in-person classes for the upper school due to multiple entrance points on the campus for parents to drop students off, minimizing congestion. But start times will be staggered at the Kinder Center to minimize congestion. 

“I anticipate we’re going to have upwards of 80% of our kids in classes tomorrow," Executive Director of LILA Shannon Peterson said.  

North Lakes Academy will be holding in-person classes through Tuesday, Dec. 21, but will not be holding classes Dec. 22. (Thursday, Dec. 23 was already a professional development day with no students in class.)

Hannah Davis is the Area Editor at the Forest Lake Times. You can contact her at hannah.davis@ecm-inc.com or (763)233-0709

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