Students haven’t attended any in-person classes at any Stillwater Area Public Schools since the start of the U.S. coronavirus pandemic in March. Last week, students headed back to their buildings for in-person instruction.

During the first week of school, interim superintendent Malinda Lansfeldt provided an update to the Stillwater Area School board on Thursday, Sept. 10, on how returning to classes using a hybrid learning model was going.

“Board directors, we have started school,” Lansfeldt said.

Students have been assigned to an A or B group and are alternating days where they attend school in person or online to prevent crowded classrooms. Students’ desks are spaced six-feet apart and they are required to wear masks while inside buildings.

The Minnesota Department of Education stated that school districts should implement models for instruction based on a county’s number of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people over a two-week period. Washington County’s rate was 22.46 as of the board’s Thursday, Sept. 10, meeting. At that rate, MDE recommends a hybrid learning model.

“We’re still at that 20-29 cases, which would put us in hybrid learning for all of our students,” Lansfeldt said.

This year, what also looks different this year is there are no crowded buses. On average, 22 students are riding to school each day on the district’s 77-capacity buses. Only members of the same family are allowed to sit together.

“Just seeing the school buses arriving, it’s really spaced out, and the buses are very, very busy as we have a lot of new drivers, but so far I haven’t received a (complaint),” Lansfeldt said. “They’re working very, very hard. Thank you to all the bus drivers who are doing the best for our students right now. It seems to be running smooth at this time.”

Lansfeldt visited elementary schools during the first week of school, and said she could see students “eyes smiling through their masks.”

“It’s so wonderful to finally have students and families in the classrooms for the Ready, Set, Go conferences,” she said.

Ready, Set, Go conferences are meetings set up at the beginning of the year from kindergarten through fifth grade as a way for parents and students to get to know each other, according to the district’s website.

Board member Mike Ptacek asked if anyone could opt for those conferences online.

“Yes,” Lansfeldt responded. “I was in classrooms and saw them done both ways.”

This year, the meetings are 30 minutes long with 15-minute breaks to space out students.

Lansfeldt added one positive aspect coming out of the pandemic is the United States Department of Agriculture is offering all students free meals until the end of December.

The program had been giving meals out in the spring and summer months due to the pandemic, and it was set to expire before the 2020-21 school year.

“We were very sad to see that go, and very happy to hear that it’s back until the end of December now,” Landsfelt said. “So all students can eat free:

Breakfast and lunch. They will be provided this fall whether learning at school or from home.”

Also, high school students on early release will have grab and go — both hot and cold meals — options available, she said.

If students are learning at home, the district has a week’s

supply of breakfast and lunches available for pickup on Fridays — excluding holidays — from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at Stillwater Area High School, 5701 Stillwater Blvd N., Oak Park Heights, and Brookview Elementary, 11099 Brookview Road, Woodbury.

“So, great news we’re excited, and it’s great food: I love it,” Lansfeldt said. “It’s not the same type of food I remember eating.”

Board member Jennifer Pelletier has received strong support from community members pleased with how the district is handling the start of the school year.

“I had so many messages of thanks from moms, dads, families, kids,” Pettelier said. “The staff did a phenomenal job, and honestly I think the kids were just excited to be back. Way to put the kids first in all capacities.”

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