The Orono school board approved their back-to-school plan that offers options for students enrolled in all levels during their Aug. 17 meeting.
On July 30, Gov. Tim Walz announced K-12 public school districts in Minnesota have the ability to choose their own back-to-school plan. The onsite buildings and transportation will operate at 50 percent capacity. For this reason, students can choose a hybrid model that has them attending in-person classes every other day or opt in for full-time distance learning.
For students in K-5, families have the choice of all-day, full-week, onsite learning or full-time home-based distance learning. For grades 6-12, students are offered a hybrid learning program, which includes a blend of in-person and distance learning or a full-time schedule of home-based distance learning. According to district staff, approximately 10 percent of students have opted into distance learning full-time.
“We went with a hybrid model because that is what we qualify for under the governor’s guidance. We had a priority for our youngest learners to get back in school as much as possible so we developed a hybrid model that emphasises getting those younger students back in school every day,” Superintendent Karen Orcutt said.
The district provides information for families on its website, including a question and answer portion because questions were pouring in from parents. Questions included cover topics such as what families can expect from the different models, transportation, child care, social distancing, lunch, technology support and health and safety guidelines.
“Safety is our number one priority but flexibility and opening up for our parents is a top priority as well,” Orcutt said.
As part of the district’s health and safety guidelines, all attending students must complete a health check, hand hygiene will be enforced, masks or face coverings are required by students and staff while onsite and social distancing precautions will be put into place.
Social distancing precautions include turning higher traffic hallways into one-ways, marked entrance and exit doors signage, flooring and seat markings, plexiglass barriers in offices and classroom tables, limit sharing materials and electronic devices and students will be a part of smaller groups in classrooms.
In order to encourage social distancing, the district asked families who are able to, to opt out of bussing. According to Director of Business Services John Morstad, the district received enough opt outs to operate their bus routes while social distancing.
When distance learning was first implemented over the spring, meals became available for pick-up. That will not change during the 2020-2021 school year. Meals will be available at pick-up locations for distance learning students. Students attending alternate days will have the option to take home a meal for their distance learning days. Breakfast will be available every day for students. For younger students onsite, meals will be eaten in classrooms. An additional lunch period was added for high school students, who will eat in the cafeteria while remaining socially distant.
“We’ve had a phenomenal planning team throughout the summer and with parents’ input, that planning team has done a wonderful job creating a strong plan for this year,” Orcutt said.
While creating new back-to-school models was a challenge the district focused on all summer, they are also continuing to focus on their 2020 technology levy. When it comes to technology, students will receive a school-owned device or will have the option to bring their own. Securing Wifi hotspots will be available to students who do not have reliable internet access.
When 55 percent of voters turned down the request to increase the district’s technology levy in 2019, Director of Business Services John Morstad wanted to know why.
“The most important thing we did was listen to the community and find out why at the time they voted no. The information we found out was there was a greater interest in learning more detail of exactly how we were planning to spend the money,” he said. “We spent quite a bit of time in study and planning to provide that transparency and details back to the community.
The district launched oronotech.com, a website with information about their 2020 levy, and a video presentation from Morstad and Superintendent Karen Orcutt to provide transparency to the community.
Current technology funding comes from a technology levy that was first approved in 2002 and then renewed in 2011 for 10 years. The levy provides approximately $1.1 million for technology funding and is set to expire in 2021.
The current referendum will be voted on in November 2020. If approved, it would revoke the existing levy of 2.539 percent and replace it with a new authorization of 4.516 percent for the next 10 years. The new authorization was reduced from 5.023 percent.
“The proposed authorization would raise approximately $1,988,720 for taxes payable in 2021, the first year it is to be levied. A “yes” vote ensures that the technology funds Orono receives through the levy will continue for the next 10 years,” district information states.
Within Orono’s district, a median-value home at $400,00 would see a tax increase of $6.25 per month. A $200,000 home would see a $2.83 increase per month and a $1,000,000 home would see a $17.75 increase per month. This levy also puts orono in the middle when compared to neighboring districts.
The $1,988,720 levy translates to $664 per-pupil with Hopkins school district sitting at the top with $10,553.614 total levy and Westonka at the bottom with a $1,432,175 total levy.
If the 2020 levy is voter-approved, the district plans to use the funds to update their core technology infrastructure, “the platform on which the district operates.” This includes device and software tools; network and wireless systems, cybersecurity protections, building security, communications, student records and business management. The fund would also be used for classroom equipment and support staff.
“Distance learning made it crystal clear that our infrastructure has to be updated...We have to have the infrastructure to support distance learning and a complete flexible learning plan in-house as well,” Orcutt said.
The video presentation can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oCCRfYpj018