It's been 170 days since students attended school in person in Minnesota, COVID-19 causing the state to shut down in-school learning in March. That will change next Tuesday in Princeton when pre-K through fifth grade begin daily attendance and those in grades 6-12 will be in person two days a week and work at home the rest of the week.

For one thing, students and staff members will all be wearing masks. And there are other changes.

Students in the middle school and high school will be split into A and B groups, the A group attending school on Monday and Tuesdays, Wednesdays being used to clean the school buildings, and the B group attending on Thursday and Friday.

Busing will also change, the district's 28 buses making two runs in the morning and two in the afternoon because of occupancy guidelines. Elementary students will go to school from about 8 to 2, middle school and high school students will attend from 9 to 3. Sanitation of the buses will be a priority.

The alternating days for high school and middle school students is a reality because 50% occupancy is required. "We had to find a way to have 50 percent occupancy in each room," said Superintendent Ben Barton. 

When Group A is attending in person, those in Group B will will begin their two days at home by using Zoom to interact with the teacher to get their lessons and then log off the Zoom and do their homework, and vice versa when Group B is in attendance and Group A is at home.

A typical middle school or high school includes six or seven class periods a day. But a change has been made for this year, with three class periods on the first day of each group, and three on the second day. The time for each class has been doubled to approximately 90 minutes.

The district also added five to six teachers in both the primary and intermediate schools to trim class sizes, something that wasn't required by the state but that will be good for the district, said Barton, in his third year as superintendent after nine years as a superintendent elsewhere.

The Princeton district includes students from four counties -- Mille Lacs, Sherburne, Isanti and Benton. State guidelines say districts with students from more than one county must use the county with the highest number of COVID cases to determine what kind of scheduling to use. Sherburne (the figures change every two weeks) currently has 12.01 cases per 10,000 residents, while Mille Lacs is at 6.61, although that number has risen recently.

Barton meets with Public Health personnel in Sherburne twice a week and with Mille Lacs Public Health twice a week. To make a change in the current schedule the figure in Sherburne would have to drop to 9 COVID cases per 10,000 for two weeks.

"I'm hopeful that we can go full time in the middle school and high school eventually," Barton said. "But we'll have to wait and see."

Barton is "extremely disappointed" with the Minnesota State High School League's decision to move football and volleyball to the spring, as well as cutting the number of games and contests for the fall sports of girls tennis, boys and girls soccer, girls swimming, and boys and girls cross-country.

"But I wasn't in their shoes and I can empathize with them having to make tough decisions," he said. "You look at this whole deal and health and safety are a priority."

In a story in the Sept. 3 issue of the Union-Times, Barton urged district residents to use the district's 10-step process, printed on page 8 along with the story, for resolving issues that arise because of the changes for this school year. "If you have a question, go to the source," Barton said in that story. That source has the most information."

Barton said in the story that issues which come up in this uncertain year are not just Princeton issues, saying it's "a societal issue that we all have to deal with."

He had these words of caution as my interview with him ended on Thursday. "I think people need to take a breath," he said. "There will be bumps in the road. There will be things we'll learn . . . and we'll modify things. It's a very stressful time and we need to be kind to each other."

Enrollment is up, as are costs

The figures change daily, according to Barton, but latest totals show a district enrollment of 3,248 students. At the primary school (K-2) the current total is 691, with a surprise. The district budgeted for about 200 kindergarteners but in the past few weeks an extra 55 in that grade have enrolled, some of them from out of the district.

The intermediate school (grades 3-5) has 730 students, the middle school (grades 6-8) 782 and the high school 1,045, which includes ALC (Area Learning Center) students and online students enrolled in a new program designed to attract students from other districts. The largest grade in the district is the sophomore class with 282 students.

There will be 100 to 150 more students than what had been projected, Barton said. The state's basic aid formula will provide the district $6,567 per pupil unit and that means nearly $1 million more in state aid. But there's a catch. Including the two teachers hired recently to  deal with the larger-than-expected group of kindergarteners, the district will have expenditures of about an extra $1 million to cover expenses added for this school year because of COVID-19.

Daily diary for the 2020 Minnesota Twins

Saturday, Aug. 29 — Rain washed out the Minnesota doubleheader in Detroit, although not long after the decision was madeit stopped raining. With some work the games could likely have been played.

Sunday, Aug. 30—The Twins managed only two runs and four hits in each game of a doubleheader in Detroit and that translated to losses of 8-2 and 4-2 as pitchers with sky-high ERAs (8.48 and 10.48)  got the wins for the Tigers. The losses dropped Minnesota into third place in its division. The Twins were 8 for 47 in the two seven-inning games.

Monday, Aug. 31 — Six days ago the Twins had a 2 1/2-game lead on both Cleveland and Chicago. After the 3-2 loss in Detroit yesterday, the team's fifth in a row, the Twins are in third place, 1 1/2 games behind first-place Cleveland and the White Sox who are tied for first. The Twins scored only six runs and totaled 13 hits (13-for-79, .164) in the three games in Detroit, with another doubleheader now scheduled for this coming Friday when the Tigers come to town because of not playing on Thursday and Friday. I have frankly been surprised all season when some of the Twin Cities media were handing the division title to the Twins as far back as two weeks ago. But I didn't expect the team to lose five in a row, following an earlier four-game losing streak. Neither one of those streaks would be much to worry about in a normal 162-game season. But when you're playing only 60 games it's a little different. After a 10-2 start the team has been 10-13 since. Kenta Maeda (4-1) took his first loss of the season. The Twins need to win two of the three games with the White Sox this week.

Tuesday, Sept. 1 — Handed a 4-0 lead over first-place Chicago, starter Rich Hill pitched three scoreless innings and then walked the first three batters of the fourth inning and left after getting only one out. The White Sox tied the game at 4-4 in the sixth. The Twins got the lead back in the sixth on a Jake Cave single but Chicago tied it in the seventh and then scored three unearned runs in the ninth, after right fielder Max Kepler dropped a routine fly, and won the game 8-5. The Twins struck out 13 times, already the fifth time they have had at least 13 strikeouts in a game this season. One of the excuses for the anemic hitting by the Twins is that Mitch Garver (.154, 2 RBIs), Josh Donaldson (.182, 2 RBIs) and Byron Buxton (.221, 12 RBIs) are out of the lineup, Garver and Buxton not having played since Aug. 19 and Donaldson missing the last 28 games. That's a bit of a false narrative, the three combining for a .190 average so far this season. Buxton had a five-game hot streak but is 6-to-47 otherwise. The word is that Buxton and Donaldson will be back this week.

Wednesday, Sept. 2 — Manager Rocco Baldelli posted a lineup with Miguel Sano -— yes, Sano — as the leadoff hitter and it turned out to be a bust, Sano striking out three times as he went 0-for-5.  And then first baseman Sano, for at least the third time in the past few weeks, fielded a ball that would have been an easy out by the second baseman, the batter reaching safely. That play handed the White Sox two runs. But the Twins won 3-2 as Michael Pineda pitched six good innings in his return from being suspended last year and Buxton starred in the field and at the plate. He made a leaping catch at the wall in the sixth inning on a ball that looked to be headed over the fence, and then singled in the go-ahead run with two outs in the seventh. Three relievers each pitched a scoreless inning after Pineda left and the Twins had a much-needed win that ended a six-game losing streak. Other keys in the win were a pinch-hit triple by Cave in the sixth and a follow-up pinch-hit double by Luis Arraez that tied the score. Chicago and Cleveland are tied for first in the division, 1 1/2 game ahead of Minnesota.

Thursday, Sept. 3 — If you wanted to be picky about the 8-1 win over the White Sox last night you could make reference to the sloppy play (with no errors charged) that gave Chicago its only run, and all of the runners left on base early in the game (5 by Nelson Cruz in his first two at-bats). But ti would be better to say that for the first time in a week, the Minnesota Twins looked like the team that just about everyone expected this year. Jose Berrios (8-0 lifetime vs. the White Sox at Target Field, 12-2 career vs. Chicago) was very sharp, even though he still threw a lot of pitches, thus cutting down on the number of innings worked. 

Friday, Sept. 4— The Twins had a much-needed day off on Thursday and start a five-game series today with a doubleheader against Detroit. Minnesota is 1 1/2 games out of first place and 1 game out of second  with only 22 games left in the season..  Both Max Kepler and Luis Arraez left Wednesday's game with injuries and their status is unknown at this time. The Twins are 14-4 (.778) at home, the best in baseball. The pitching staff, a bit rested after a day off and none of the main relievers pitching since Tuesday, faces seven games in the next five days, including another doubleheader next Tuesday in St. Louis. First place in the division is still a possibility but the Twins need to go at least 4-3 in those seven games since there will be only 15 games remaining. The team has two off days next Wednesday and Thursday.


Sept. 9 1965 — Tom Peterson and Clem Letich won the National League season standings at Rum River Golf Club and Hank Findell and Boyd Hodgson won the American League.

Sept, 2,  1970 — Princeton was outscored 16-0 by Cambridge in the Rum River Conference football jamboree at Princeton. It was noted that, remarkably, only 37 passes were attempted by the eight teams that played (about 4.6 per team for two quarters each).

Sept. 10, 1975 — Ziggy's won the local city league softball playoffs with a 14-0 win over Princeton Implement. Denny Sternquist drove in 4 ruins and Art Skarohlid 3. The game was carried on local radio . . . Dan Kne was 7-4 for the town baseball team that qualified for the state tournament and struck out 118 in 84 innings. He gave up only 53 hits.

Sept. 11, 1980 — Doug Burns of PHS won the Class AA cross-country race at the Purple Hawk Invitational in Cambridge with a time of 15:54. (Burns went on to become a successful college runner) . . . Steve Wankel ran for 132 yards but Princeton lost 12-12 to North Branch when the Vikings scored all 13 points in the final quarter.

Sept. 12, 1985 —Christopher Grigsby ran for a touchdown but the Tigers had only 20 net yards rushing in a 12-7 loss to Mora . . . Jon Sather was 17th in 18:20 for the boys cross-country team at the Purple Hawk Invitational.

Sept. 13, 1990 — Elk River beat Princeton in the first two sets of a volleyball match at Princeton and led 11-3 in the third. But the Tigers rallied for a 15-13 win and won the next two sets easily to defeat the Elks. Corrine Lundell had 16 kills and Julie Priess had seven ace serves . . . Jenny Sanford broke the five-year-old school record for diving with 173.2 points.

Sept. 14, 1995 —There were a full girls varsity team and full boys varsity and JV cross-country teams at the Cambridge Invitational for the first time in many years . . . Katie Westling led Princeton with 25 kills as the Tigers posted a 2-2 record in their volleyball invitational.

Sept. 7, 2000 —The Princeton Panthers finished second in the state amateur baseball tournament, losing 9-5 to Brainerd in the final game. The team won its first two games in the double elimination tournament, lost to Watertown, and then beat Elko 8-2, Luverne 6-4, Litchfield 15-13, and New Ulm 14-3 before the loss to Brainerd, getting 39 hits in the Litchfield and New Ulm games. Next week there will be a separate story about the tournament. There had been plans for a 20-year reunion in 2020 but COVID-19 took care of that, with plans now for one in 2021.

Sept. 15, 2005 — Princeton beat Monticello 25-7 in the first-ever Mississippi 8 football game for PHS. Dwayne Warren ran for 117 yards and a touchdown, and returned the second half kickoff for a touchdown. He had scoring runs of 78, 73 and 83 yards to that point in the season

Sept. 16, 2010 — The girls tennis team beat Big Lake 5-2 and lost 5-2 to Monticello in Mississippi 8 matches. The team then posted a 1-2 record at the St. Cloud Apollo Invitational . . . The Sanford Farms team of Brian Sanford, Ron Deglmann, Carl Sanford, Rick Frauendienst, Steve Tulp, John Tulp, Doug Sanford and Dick Sproessig won the Gold Division season title at West Branch Gun Club.

Sept. 10, 2015 — The football team fell behind 13-0 at Duluth East but rallied for a 35-13 win as quarterback Tyler McAlpine threw three TD passes and ran for two. He ran for 94 yards and threw for 203 . . . The girls tennis team beat section rival Elk River 4-3, the match coming down to the No 2 singles match which Kelsey Dorr won after losing the first set. The team also won the Delano Invitational for the second straight year and beat Brainerd and Staples-Motley in a trip north.

(Dorr is the former editor of the Princeton Eagle (2 years) and Princeton Union-Eagle (31 years), and has covered sports in the area for the past 53 years.)

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