The Orono school board is continuing to hold their meetings virtually to limit person-to-person contact and they held their first meeting of the 2021 year on Monday, Jan. 11.

The meeting began with board member Bob Tunheim being elected as chair, Sarah Borchers as vice chair, Martha Van Deven as clerk and Mike Bash as treasurer. The board then approved changes to the Base Learning Model for the 2020-2021 school year in order to have secondary students return to a hybrid learning model.

According to the district, the number of COVID-19 cases they are seeing are decreasing. The district started the school year with an A/B model for secondary students and reduced the class size for kindergarten through fifth grades.

Secondary students were moved to distance learning on Nov. 18 while elementary students were moved to distance learning on Dec. 1. The district is implementing a rolling start for secondary students, as Gov. Tim Walz updated to Safe Learning Plan in mid-December. The update includes instructions for schools moving from distance learning to a hybrid model, which includes the Orono School District. The move requires a “rolling start,” according to the Department of Education, with no more than three grade levels coming back to the building for the first two weeks.

According to Superintendent Karen Orcutt, the roll out model is more difficult for the high school than it is for younger students.

“Our original plan was to bring everybody in on Feb. 1, but we got told we have to have a rolling start at the high school,” Orcutt said. Board member Mike Bash agreed that it’s difficult to roll out a high school with four grades.

Orono Middle School will shift from distance learning to a hybrid learning model on Feb. 2. Joining them are Orono High School students in ninth and 12 grades. Students in grades 10 and 11 will shift back to a hybrid learning model on Feb. 17. Elementary students will shift to a full five-day schedule on Feb. 17.

Students that signed up for fully distanced learning at the beginning of the school year still have the opportunity to change to a hybrid model. Families can reach out to their schools and principals have been working to accommodate the needs of students.

Board member and parent Ali Howe took the time to thank the administration and staff for their dedication and commitment as restrictions have changed. Additional changes can occur as changes are made by state officials.

“Thank you to the administration and all staff involved. I know you guys have gone to bat for the district and students and advocated when we have had some of those restrictions imposed that are difficult to deal with … I want to thank you for your dedication and commitment and constantly trying to do the best for our students,” she said.

The next regular board meeting will be held on Monday, Jan. 25 at 7 p.m.

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