Planning for the 2020-2021 school year is not an easy task for school districts across Minnesota, including the Little Falls School District.
“Increasingly, chances are it won’t be normal. I won’t say it is a given, but the likelihood of all the students being in the buildings every day next year beginning in September is very slim,” said Supt. Stephen Jones.
The last five weeks, Jones said he and the others on the administrative team have been meeting to figure out how the district will plan the new school year. As of now, they have about 12-14 different options for types of schedules for students and staff on what would be possible.
The district plans to release a survey to staff and parents to get a better insight into what staff and parents are comfortable with. As school commences for the 2020-2021 school year in September, will parents be comfortable to send their children to school? Will the staff be comfortable returning to work inside the buildings full-time, part-time or even ever?
As the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has yet to provide guidelines to districts when it comes to planning for the new school year and there is really no time to wait, Jones said the Little Falls School District has taken the approach to it much like the hockey player Wayne Gretzky did on the ice.
“Wayne Gretzky always skated toward where the puck was going to be. He didn’t skate to where it was at that moment,” he said.
Jones said the district has been monitoring and following the different reopening phases the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released. While the current state guidelines from Gov. Tim Walz that only groups of 10 may gather and would currently only allow nine students to one teacher, Jones is hoping that by September, that the ratio will be about 12-15 students to one teacher in a 1,200-square foot classroom.
“If we get to that level, then we think that we can put together a plan that really makes sense,” he said.
The district plans to host virtual community discussions in a video conference format various times in June and July for people in the community to ask questions to see what their concerns are in real time.
Jones said the goal is to create a plan that takes into account the needs and desires of parents as well as their safety concerns of their children.
Little Falls School Board Briefs
In other business Monday, the Little Falls School Board:
• Heard from Supt. Stephen Jones that he was very appreciative of the response by the staff and community after a staff member had tested positive for the novel coronavirus the week before.. Jones said it was handled as well as anyone could have handled it in terms of cooperation from folks in the community and the staff;
• Heard from high school Principal Tim Bjorge that the Little Falls Community High School commencement of graduating seniors is set for Sunday, May 24, at 2 p.m. in the west student parking lot. In the case of severe weather, the ceremony will be postponed to Monday, May 25, at 2 p.m. Two parking spaces were assigned to each participating student as visitors and students will need to remain in their vehicle, with the exception of students when they walk across the stage. The ceremony will be broadcast on Little Falls Radio AM960 KLTF and livestreamed on the school’s YouTube channel;
• Was informed by Jones that the district has opted to go with the hybrid model plan to combine in-school learning with distance learning for the summer program. It was one of two options, the other being solely distance learning, as outlined in a recent order by Gov. Tim Walz. The summer program (credit recovery) will only be available for high school students and will take place at the high school and at the Continuing Education Center (CEC), starting in June. There will be no summer school for elementary and middle school students. Special education summer school takes place in August;
• Recognized and thanked retirees for their service to the Little Falls School District — Barb Balaski, 28 years; Cathy Borders, 24 years; Michelle Brekken, 11 years; Cindy Casillas, 27 years; Robyn Gray, 30 years; Michael Hendrickson, 33 years; Patrick Janey, 43 years; Gloria Kofoed, 27 years; Diane Koll, 40 years; Jeannie McKee, 14 years; Annie Mrozek, 30 years; Michael Olson, 29 years; Helen Pfeffer, 30 years; Kelsi Olson-Stacken, 28 years; Barb Stavish, 28 years; Judy Stavish, 2 years and Steve Wilger, 26 years;
• Accepted the following donations — $35 from Robin and Sara Pohlman to the activities scholarship fund; $75 from Jesse and Kelly Stavish to the activities scholarship fund; $150 from Michael and Maryjo Olson for the activities banquet for a swimming scholarship; $1,000 from John Zehren to activities for the Zehren scholarship; $150 from David and Peggy Stumpf for the activities banquet for a swimming scholarship; $300 from Green Prairie Township for youth recreation; $100 from Donald and Lynn St. Onge to the food program; $500 from the Little Falls to the “Flyer Pride Pack” weekend food backpack program; $500 from the “Spillum Kids” to the Little Falls Community High School for the Spillum scholarship; four $1,500 ($6,000 total) scholarships from Crow Wing Power for the high school scholarship fund; $50 from Loren and Marie Sandman to the food program; $100 from Beverly and Richard Culshaw; an anonymous donation of $300 to the food program; $200 from Darling Township for youth recreation; $1,500 from the Koch Companies Community Fund for the Flint Hills Resource Discovery Scholarship; $500 from Laura and Rolf Anderson for the Rolf Anderson Scholarship and $1,000 from Federated Co-ops Inc. for the high school fund;
• Heard from Jones that setting a budget for the 2020-2021 school year is completely different from previous years due to the pandemic. Jones thanked Business Manager Shelly Kircher for her hard word in putting it together. Jones anticipates to have a budget ready to be presented by the end of June/early July;
• Was informed by Jones that the school is trying to create a behind-the-wheel training program while keeping social distancing in mind and balancing any anxiety students or staff members may have;
• Heard from Jones that he and Bjorge plan to discuss what can be done with athletics and activities during summer. Jones said the Minnesota High School League has not provided school districts with any guidance as to what districts can or cannot do. Jones said the area districts are communicating to create a balance to ensure that no district is given an advantage in students-coach activities to keep it fair, all the while, keeping the safety of students and adults in mind;
• Added Royalton and Staples-Motley to the cooperative sponsorship for girls swimming the district has with Pillager;
• Added Royalton to the cooperative sponsorship for dance the district has with Pillager; and
• Approved 2020-2021 resolution for membership in the Minnesota State High School League.
The Little Falls School Board’s next regular meeting will be Monday, June 15, at 5 p.m. in the Media Center at the Little Falls Community Middle School.
The meeting is closed to the public due to the COVID-19 outbreak, but will be livestreamed and posted on the school’s YouTube page.