If COVID-19 numbers remain steady, elementary students could return to full time in-person classes Nov. 10

Interim Superintendent Malinda Lansfeldt said the Stillwater Area Public School district’s goal is to get students back to full time in-person learning this year.

She presented to the SAPS board of directors’ meeting on Sept. 24 what it would take to move most students back into brick-and-mortar classrooms this year.

The majority of students are enrolled for the district’s “On the Dial” instructional programing.

“‘On the Dial’ means we can go back and forth between in-person and hybrid and possibly distance learning,” Lansfeldt said.

This year, the “On the Dial” learners started the school in a hybrid model. About 25 to 27% of the district’s population opted for 100% online instruction.

Lansfeldt cited Washington County’s COVID-19 rate of 12.40 per 10,000 people in Washington County during a two-week period.

That number is low enough for the state department of education to allow for elementary school students to return to in-person learning.

“(But) we would like to see that rate steady for a few weeks before transitioning back into person,” Lansfeldt said, “because we don’t want to get back to in person, and the next week we have to go to hybrid.

“That’s very disruptive to families, teachers and it takes a lot of time to do.”

However, Lansfeldt noted there is a two-week delay, and COVID-19 case rates were increasing during the delayed period.

She noted that the district would like to see case rates hold steady before moving students into in-person instruction.

When changing the instructional models, the board should also consider staffing coverage and instructional preparedness.

A few other factors for moving instructional models include technology access, building readiness — such as having tables spread out — and service readiness.

Staff also needs to consult with the Minnesota Department of Education, Minnesota Department of Health and Washington County before changing the district’s learning approach.

Case preparation

Lansfeldt explained what the district plans to do if a student comes down with COVID-19.

“If you get a case in an elementary school everybody in that class may have to quarantine for two weeks,” Lansfeldt said. “That’s half a month, which is a huge inconvenience for families as well, but that would have to be done.”

District staff also plans on contact COVID-19 tracing.

Students may have to move to online instruction temporarily if there is a confirmed COVID-19 case, but contact tracing and notification of the infected person’s contacts in the school setting cannot be completed with 24 to 36 hours, Lansfeldt said.

“So, if we cannot get this work done we may have to close a school for a day or two until we can make sure that has been completed,” she said.

The district also will move kids into an online learning model if there are multiple COVID-19 cases identified within a short time occurring across classrooms or activities and a clear connection between is not identified.

Moving forward

Lansfeldt recommended discuss the issue again at the board’s meeting on Oct. 22, and possibly having the board decide to have kids return to school on Nov. 10.

Board member Bill Gilles asked if that was too far out, and should the board vote sooner.

Lansfeldt responded the staff wouldn’t be ready in two weeks if the board were to vote that evening, and the Nov. 10 date is the start of second quarter.

“So that would be the natural break, and that would be much easier for staff too, and that’s why we chose that date,” Lansfeldt said.

Board member Jennifer Pelletier, asked how teachers are handling the year so far?

Lansfeldt noted that teachers are starting to catch up to handling the hybrid learning model.

“It’s gone up exponentially for skills,” Lansfeldt said. “We were just talking today from what students provided two weeks ago from now, and it’s a big difference.”

However, working both in-person and online is complex and requires lot of work, and many teachers are working evenings to compensate.

Getting back to in-person instruction would help lighten the load.

“It’s just going to take time to get back to in person,” Lansfeldt said. “We know that’s what we want.”

Contact Stillwater Gazette Managing Editor Matt DeBow at matt.debow@apgecm.com or call 651-796-1118.

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