While local public schools await state directives on how they offer classes for the 2020-2021 school year, Waconia private schools are moving forward with reopening.
Trinity Lutheran School made the official decision last week to open full-time on a five-day a week schedule for the 2020-21 school year beginning Aug. 26. St. Joseph Catholic School will return to in-person learning on Aug. 31.
Details of how school during a pandemic year will look are still being worked out, but school administrators Bruce Richards (St. Joe’s) and Dan Maser (Trinity) say the vast majority of their families indicate they are comfortable sending kids back to school following a spring of distance learning. Both say their respective schools also have had considerable interest from new families about sending their children to school this fall.
Richards points to the social, emotional and physical aspects of education in the desire to reopen schools, as well as the financial component in parents needing to work. There’s also the building of relationships and sense of community that schools provide, Maser notes.
And while the nation and world are still navigating the health situation posed by COVID-19, both school administrators note there is growing knowledge about the virus and that both schools have a re-entry strategy that prioritizes health and safety and allows flexibility if the community experiences a spike in COVID-19 cases. It won’t be easy though, they say, and there are still many questions and considerations with the start of school just over a month away.
Among the considerations are how to enter and exit the school building, how classes are structured, how transportation is handled, how school lunch is provided, how specialty classes like music and phy ed will be conducted, and how to ensure adequate sanitizing and cleaning. There also could also be some physical classroom and building changes to help with physical distancing.
And in the case of St. Joe’s, school leadership just approved a project to install a fresh air exchanger in a building where the windows don’t open.
When it comes to the start of the school year, parents and visitors can expect that access to school campuses will be limited. Students are likely to be assigned to groups, or pods, and teachers could come to classrooms rather than students going to them to minimize interaction. Also expect lots of class time outside as long as the weather is nice. In terms of masks, they might be required in common spaces, but maybe not in the classroom.
When it comes to school lunch, meals could be delivered to the classroom, or there might be extended lunch shifts. That’s one of the details yet to be ironed out, school administrators say.
Parents also will be asked to do their part by assessing their children for COVID-19 symptoms and quarantining persons that have tested positive or been exposed to COVID-19.
St. Joe’s school decision making is guided by the Catholic Archdiocese; Trinity’s by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. And both are taking into consideration guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control, Minnesota Department of Health and the state Department of Education.
“Our planning is slightly different, but we’re headed in the same direction,” said Maser, and the two local school administrators have been sharing their perspectives and approaches on school openings as they finalize plans for the new school year. Both also understand that the ever-changing nature of the COVID-19 pandemic means the upcoming school year is subject to change
“We have the best laid plans,” Richards said, “knowing that the best laid plans often have to be adjusted.”