Eden Prairie Schools begins classes - 5

Cedar Ridge Elementary third-grade teacher Jim Gustafson prepares to greet students on the first day of class for Eden Prairie Schools Sept. 2. (Submitted photo)

Eden Prairie Schools have had COVID-19 cases, but many students are continuing to meet in person.

As of the Sept. 14 Eden Prairie School Board meeting, Superintendent Josh Swanson reported that the district had three confirmed cases.

Because of health and safety precautions that are in place, he said the district has not had to undertake contact tracing.

“That means we’re not closing classrooms and we’re not closing down buildings or other things, so we’re creating stability for folks,” Swanson said. “As promised, we’ve provided public notification for each of those sites where there has been a case and walked through what does that process look like for future communication. But I think the key message here is right now our systems in this hybrid model are really – they’re working. Because of our social distance and because of masks, because of hygiene, we’re able to really keep this pretty contained.”

He indicated that staff members and students are adhering to rules relating to using masks and maintaining enough distance.

“Social distancing has been an absolutely critical part of this,” Swanson said.

The district needs to be prepared for more COVID-19 cases, according to Swanson.

“We have cases in Eden Prairie, so we are going to have cases that end up in our schools,” Swanson said.

COVID-19 case rates in the community are on the lower end of Hennepin County numbers but have spiked up a bit in the most recent weeks the district officials had reviewed, Swanson indicated.

Kindergarten and first-grade students are attending classes full-time while older students are using a hybrid system in which one group of students attends class in person two days per week while another group attends in person during a separate two-day period each week. The students all use distance learning the remainder of the week.

EP Online

Many families have opted to use the EP Online distance learning opportunity instead of using the hybrid system.

Swanson reported that about 2,340 students enrolled in the online-only program, including about 720 at the high school, 360 at Central Middle School and 1,260 at the elementary level.

Of the new online school, Swanson said, “We knew going in we’re going to make a whole bunch of decisions and try to set ourselves up, and then we’re gonna have to make some adjustments and changes.”

District leaders have sought to ensure that curriculum resources are working properly and have had to balance schedules for online learning done at specific times and learning done with flexible schedules.

“When you start a brand-new program, you want to start with a really small sample size,” Swanson said. “We didn’t have that this time. So, we’ve got a really big sample size, and so we know it’s important to get it right, and the only way we’re going to do that is by doing it and working through all of those things as we go.”

Tweaks ongoing

Swanson acknowledged that the hybrid system has been a work in progress. With technology, Swanson said teachers, parents and students are still learning. While teachers typically are teaching routines to students during the opening of most school years, this year they are learning new routines themselves, he said.

“We’re evolving it as we go,” he said of the hybrid system.

Tweaks have been made, but he said the health and safety components are in place and school buildings have been calm and quiet.

Administrators have been using survey information and feedback to make changes to instruction delivered remotely.

“We’ll continue to build and improve on last year’s experience, and we already have,” Swanson said. “We’ve gotten lots of positive feedback– not all perfect, but we’re continuing to work on it.”

The district is serving breakfast and lunch daily. Students in distance learning on a given day can pick up meals from the schools to eat at home. More broadly, meals are available to be picked up for any resident from birth through 18 years of age.

Boardmember Terri Swartout said of the initiative, “It benefits our community, and it hits those basic needs, which we know are needed for learning to take place.”

The district is continuing to provide child care for more than 200 students who have parents who are essential workers. About 600 students are enrolled in the district’s fee-based Eagle Zone child care program before and after school.

Transportation has been a concern, particularly due to social distancing needs. However, Swanson said, “On day one of school, we got everybody to school and home safely and pretty much on time. And that for many school districts in a normal year is a feat.”

He added, “We’ll continue to look at that as we go along to make sure that we can run that smoothly. We know that that’s a huge and important part of students’ days.”

Boardmember Holly Link added that she heard a positive response from parents who decided to drop their children off rather than rely on school busing.

Link said, “Parents are figuring this out, and they’re so appreciative of the routines that have been developed and tweaked.”

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