Elementary students will return to in-person learning starting mid-January
Elementary students within the Forest Lake Area School District will return to the classroom for in-person learning, grade by grade, starting on Jan. 19.
Superintendent Steve Massey gave a presentation during the Forest Lake Area School Board’s last meeting of the calendar year where he announced some changes to the school district’s COVID-19 plan following the recent announcement from Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz.
Massey announced that these changes are coming directly from the updated guidance given to Minnesota school districts. These changes are coming after being in a full distance learning model, districtwide, for the past two weeks. Massey did bring attention to the new distance learning model that was implemented and how it is far different compared to what they used in the 2019-2020 school year.
“When we made this shift we spoke to distance learning 2.0,” Massey said. “Our distance learning 2.0 is a dramatic improvement and dramatically different from the distance learning that we implemented in a very short order of time last spring.”
Under the new guidance, districts now have three different areas to focus on: prioritizing the youngest learners by having in-person learning offered to them as much as possible, relying less on county data, and increasing safety measures and mitigation efforts with in-person learning.
Massey then announced the current plan for the district that will see specific grades return to the classroom. This, however, will be done over the course of a month, as only three grades can return at a time and must be reintroduced to the classroom for two weeks before another set of grades can come in.
With that plan, grades K-2 will return to the classroom on Jan. 19, grades 3-5 will return on Feb. 1, and students in the sixth grade will return on Feb. 16. For the district, Massey thinks this will work well and also stressed that the state is insisting that younger learners return to the classroom.
“The date lines up well for us,” Massey said. “It gives us almost a full month for us to adjust and plan and put mitigation efforts in place.
“I will emphasize that the state is truly expecting districts, across the state in distance learning, to begin to roll our youngest learners back into school for in-person learning.”
Massey also touched briefly on the state’s advice to not solely monitor and use county case counts for major decisions. According to Massey, when the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education worked on the metric that was provided to districts, at the end of July, they were not expecting the amount of testing that would be available and done.
Instead, districts will continue to look at county and ZIP code-specific data, but also test positivity rates, school-level cases, the ability to staff, and other factors to determine what model they will move their students into.
The district has also released a list of different mitigation and safety procedures that will occur when students return to class in mid-January. The list includes testing available biweekly for teachers on Jan. 4, the mandatory use of face masks as well as face shields for staff at all times, 6 feet separation between educators and students, all student meal times being held in the classroom or outside, weather permitting, and several other procedures.
Along with students coming back to the classroom, athletics will be allowed to participate in practices again starting on Jan. 4. Massey was adamant about keeping sports going before Walz’s shutdown of grade school athletics. Massey understands the importance that they play in students’ mental and emotional health.
Lastly, Massey closed his presentation by stating that the district will continue to monitor the state of the pandemic within the community in order to keep students and staff safe.
“As we make this transition at the elementary level, we should not be mistaken that we are home free,” Massey said. “We’re still in a pandemic; the vaccinations are a ways off for students and staff. We expect to continue to see cases, and as we see cases we continue to expect to have classes through quarantine or kids who are quarantined through close contacts.”