Well, they tried.
To give students some sense of normalcy during this pandemic year, School District 110 started school this fall under a hybrid model with a blend of in-person classes and online learning – all face-to-face for elementary students.
Now, with COVID-19 cases ramping up drastically locally and across the Midwest, Waconia becomes the latest area school district to move to a model of mostly distance learning.
This week is the last in the current model until a least mid-January. The Waconia School Board approved the transitional learning plan at a special meeting Friday. A message went out to district families Friday evening.
“We want to do everything possible to keep students in school, but we also need to take into account what is happening around us,” said School Superintendent Pat Devine. “We fully understand the deep impact that this has on families, students and staff. It has been very difficult to make this decision when we want our students to be in our schools.”
But that’s no longer viable, school administrators, staff and board members determined last week, saying “we have to do what is safest for everyone.” It’s not just that COVID-19 cases are rising, a growing number of teachers, staff, even bus drivers are in quarantine which is making it hard to conduct meaningful in-person classes. Substitute teachers, many who are retired educators, also are wary about coming back into the classroom at this time it was pointed out at the meeting.
The decision to move back to distance learning was made with guidance from Carver County Public Health, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Department of Education.
Richard Scott, Carver County director of Public Health, was at Friday’s school board meeting, conducted online, and shared numbers that showed a much faster rate of COVID-19 infection in the county the past 14 days. The rate of individuals testing positive is climbing too. At current rates and conditions, one in four county residents could be exposed to COVID before the end of the month, he said.
Given the situation, the school board voted unanimously to move to distance learning. The transition begins this week (Nov. 16-20) with at least two days slated while students are still on campus to provide training on how to engage in the new distance learning model.
In making the decision, board members expressed concerns and acknowledged shortcomings of the distance learning model introduced in early spring when COVID-19 first surfaced and shut down in-person classes. School administrators note that much has been learned and improved since those emergency learning provisions were put in place, and that extra effort will be made to make distance learning more like a normal class day and to help students who struggle with distance learning. There could also be special provisions worked out for special needs students and students with disabilities. So, Waconia Learning Center students and center-based programs could follow a different model.
With the latest change in learning models, there will now not be school for students any days the week of Thanksgiving. The first day all students begin full distance learning will be Dec. 1, which will provide teachers and staff additional time to prepare, school leaders indicated.
The hope is that full distance learning would continue only until the third week in January, Devine said at the meeting, although that depends on the state of an unpredictable virus.
In the meantime, fall activities will finish out the season and winter activities are suspended for the month of December. More information will be shared on the district website isd110.org and plans will be adjusted if the situation changes.
“The district’s actions hopefully will mitigate some of the surge of COVID-19,” Devine said, “but it’s going to take families at home and in the community to help us with it too.”