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Milaca Public Schools continues to analyze recent Minnesota Department of Education information to determine the safest way to reopen this fall.

Last week, Gov. Tim Walz announced schools will have flexibility on how to reopen based on the number of locally confirmed COVID-19 cases.

According to Superintendent David Wedin, the most recent data for Mille Lacs County indicates Milaca can have all of its students come back in person on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

“The teaching staff and the community will have to be ready to potentially switch between different learning plans,” Wedin explained. “That’s why we were directed to plan for three scenarios. We’ve been able to take a look and see what this means to us, using the 14-day case study data for Mille Lacs County.”

School districts will need to consider their case trend when deciding how to start. For the 14-day period ending July 18, Mille Lacs County had 5.05 cases per 10,000 people. Using that data, current guidance is in-person learning for all students.

“Distance learning is still an option,” Wedin said. “There’s lot of unknowns. We have to keep asking, ‘What will the numbers look like before school opens?’”

In Milaca’s fall planning survey, approximately 20% of the respondents indicated they are not comfortable with their children returning to school, Wedin reported.

Also, a number of respondents commented their children would not return to school if they have to wear masks. As of now, the state guidance indicates students and staff are required by the governor’s emergency executive order to wear face coverings.

Wedin said if parents are not comfortable with a child returning to the school building, a redesigned distance learning option will be available.

In addition, over 50% of the respondents in the fall planning survey indicated they had the ability to provide transportation, if necessary.

Potentially, there could be adjustments to bus transportation limiting the number of students per bus. The district is encouraging families to transport their students, if possible. Students and bus drivers are required to wear masks.

Following two months of statewide distance learning, Minnesota public schools have spent summer 2020 developing contingency plans for the 2020-21 school year, based on guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and public health guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

School districts and charter schools will begin in one of three models: in-person, distance learning, or a hybrid model.

MDE experts are partnering with local school districts and charter schools to help determine which learning model they should use to start the school year.

The decision-making process will center on local data indicating the prevalence of COVID-19.

“We’ve been given a more locally driven versus a one model fits all approach that’s statewide,” Wedin explained. “What can we do as a community to make sure we do everything possible to keep those numbers down? What can we do to keep our kids in school as long as possible?”

Gov. Walz’s Executive Order 20-82 also states that all Minnesota public schools must adhere to parameters determined by MDH in implementing or shifting between the three learning models laid out in the 2020-21 school year planning guidance: in-person learning, hybrid learning, and distance learning.

To begin the 2020-21 school year, MDH has developed parameters using county public health data to support the determination of learning models for each school district and charter school.

These parameters are detailed in Safe Learning Model Guidance. In order to be responsive to the ever-changing public health situation throughout the state, MDH will update this plan as needed.

If a school district or charter school chooses to dial back to a more restrictive learning model than what is required by the Safe Learning Model Guidance, it must notify the education commissioner through the Learning Model Portal within 24 hours of beginning the new learning model.

School districts and charter schools must offer an equitable distance learning option to families that choose not to attend in-person learning due to medical risks or safety concerns. Families are not required to provide risk documentation.

Wedin said last Friday he would be getting in touch with Mille Lacs County Public Health this week to discuss the district’s plans for the coming school year.

“Right now, we are working with what we are calling our internal steering committee,” Wedin said. That working group will involve the school’s nurse.

Other groups include operations, another is student learning and a third involves communications with families. The district’s transportation company will be involved in operations.

Earlier this week, Wedin had meeting scheduled with a variety of stakeholders, including a work force committee consisting of staff members and parents.

“I even have our parent teacher organization involved,” he said. Our collective bargaining groups are invited to that meeting as well. We want to make sure we are all on the same page. How we make sudden changes will be the tough part.”

There is still state guidance that the district needs to follow, Wedin added. There will be protocols that will be put in place.

District staff will be learning a great deal in the coming weeks, Wedin said. “We have a lot of thoughts running through our heads that have to be put into action.”

Parents should continue to regularly watch their email, the district’s website, and Facebook page for additional updates regarding fall planning.

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