Elementary school students, approximately 78% of them, are set to return to Bloomington Public Schools classrooms, beginning next week.

Not all families have elected to send their elementary students back to school, but for those families that have, early childhood education and kindergarten though second-grade students will return Tuesday, Jan. 19. Students in grades 3-5 will follow on Feb. 1. This time students will be returning five days per week, rather than two days per week under the hybrid model the district used for approximately one month during the fall.

The district’s plan follows an announcement by Gov. Tim Walz last month, prioritizing in-person learning for elementary students as part of the state’s changes in pandemic protocols.

The district outlined the new parameters for in-person learning during a Jan. 12 online presentation.

Preventing the spread of COVID-19 remains a focus of the district’s policies and procedures. All staff members who have direct contact with students must wear both a face shield and a mask, which are being provided by the state, according to Hannah Hatch, the district’s manager of health services.

Social distancing guidelines will remain in effect for staff members. Any time a staff member needs to work within 6 feet of students, an additional barrier will be provided, Hatch said.

Each student’s classroom will function as a cohort, meaning classes will not mingle during the course of a school day. Students will be required to wear face coverings during indoor activities, including physical activities, Hatch noted.

The same guidelines will apply for any outdoor recess activities, according to Andrew Wilkins, the principal at Washburn Elementary School. Classrooms will remain separate during outdoor activities or recess, and students will still be required to wear a mask, he noted.

Bag lunches will be served to students, who will either eat their lunch in their classroom or in the school’s lunch room, if adequate space allows for use of a lunchroom. Students will be expected to eat 6 feet apart, and classrooms will not intermingle at lunch, Wilkins said.

Although 6 feet of distance remains the standard for student-staff interactions and at lunchtime, the guideline for students within their cohort will be 3 feet, necessary to provide education to all students using the traditional classroom model, Hatch explained.

Bus service will feature assigned seating, and all riders will be required to wear a mask. The district recommends families provide transportation to and from school, if possible, to help reduce the transmission risk, Wilkins said. The final bus schedule will be similar to the schedule from the fall, but may require minor adjustments. It will be announced later this week, Wilkins noted.

Parents may opt out of classroom instruction and continue distancing learning. Approximately 22% of elementary students will continue to use distance learning, Wilkins said.

COVID-19 tests will be available regularly for the district’s staff, according to Hatch. “This is a critical strategy for controlling the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” she said.

Saliva test kits will be provided by the state, and district employees will have the option of being tested once every two weeks. Testing is not required, but is strongly recommended by the district, Hatch explained.

The district anticipates challenges meeting the staffing demands for both in-person and distance learning, and expects that an infection or possible infection will result in requirements for staff members to isolate or quarantine. The district will continue to consult with the state, Bloomington’s Public Health Division and other medical advisors regarding its safety protocols, Hatch said.

The district’s secondary buildings continue to prepare for students’ return to their classrooms, under a hybrid model, as elementary students did during the fall. But no return date or timetable for secondary students has been set.

Video of the presentation is available online at tr.im/jan12.

Follow Bloomington community editor Mike Hanks on Twitter at @suncurrent and on Facebook at suncurrentcentral.

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