RED WING -- Call them scenarios A, B, C or 1, 2, 3. Red Wing Public Schools staff is working on three plans -- and variations within those plans just in case -- for the 2020-2021 academic year.
Superintendent Karsten Anderson told School Board members Monday, June 29, how the plans are taking shape. The three basics are:
Distance learning for all -- education that would be similar but better, he emphasized, to what began in mid-March when the governor closed school buildings as part of statewide efforts to slow the COVID-19 pandemic;
in-person learning -- bring back all students except those whose parents ask for online learning through the district during the pandemic. Social distancing and other health practices would in place;
hybrid learning -- a combination of distance learning and in-person learning with buildings at a maximum of 50% capacity in a room or building at a given time. This might mean some days in school, some days out of school, he said.
“We need to prepare to be in any of the scenarios at the beginning of the year or throughout the year,” Anderson said. “Theoretically we could start with one scenario and then the next week start in another and go back or go to the third.”
This might be done class by class, school by school, district by district or by the state. Some rural counties, for example, might have no COVID-19 cases and be able to offer in-person learning while another must switch to distance learning due to a local outbreak.
The state will provide additional guidance on what is expected on the first day of school no later than the week of July 27.
Anderson outlined seven key areas for planning and asked for feedback on all of them, but especially on structure and transportation.
13 kids only per bus
A major challenge will be getting students to and from school safely. First Student transportation representative Terry Johnson said the state has said full-size buses can only transport 13 students at a time. Anderson noted that Red Wing averaged 70 students rode each bus to school before the pandemic.
Potential ways to reduce the number and maximize bus usage include having different starting and ending times for schools, Increasing all walk zones to two 2 miles, creating more, shorter routes, asking parents to drive children other than their own, and surveying parents to see how many want the online learning even if in-person is valuable.
“Even if we did all those things, we are not down to 13 kids. Not even close. I’ll tell you that right now,” Anderson said.
He noted that the School Board will need to make the final decisions, likely in July and early August, but the staff is planning under several other assumptions:
Food Service -- Students will eat in their classrooms under both the hybrid and in-person learning scenarios.
“We want to minimize the number of interactions in the hallways, the bathrooms and especially the cafeteria,” Anderson said.
Buildings and grounds -- The district may need additional or fewer custodians based on how in-person or hybrid learning unfold. Cleaning and day/night shifts are considerations.
Technology -- The district will issue each child a technical device. Anderson said the district has enough Chromebooks for a 1:1 distribution.
Personnel -- The district should be prepared to hire more substitute workers. Officials across Minnesota estimate that 5-10% of school staff might not report to work at any given time during the pandemic. For Red Wing, that could mean 20-40 employees a day.
Teaching and learning -- Improving the quality of online education has been a priority for administrators and teachers alike since the implementation of distance learning. Anderson recommended a separate School Board workshop dedicated to this topic.
Structural needs -- Basic health measures would be put into place, such as taking students' temperatures as they enter the building. Anyone with a fever would be isolated and eventually sent home.
Red Wing High School and Twin Bluff Middle School would switch to a “true block” schedule of four classes a day, every day for a quarter instead of an eight-period day with classes on rotating days throughout a semester. At both schools, students wouldn’t use lockers, wouldn’t share computers and wouldn't have advisory periods. Students would enter through assigned doors by grade.
At the elementary level, students would stay in one classroom and teachers from room to room. Recess would be staggered so classes would not intermingle.
“We want to minimize the number of interactions,” Anderson said, and reduce the risk of infection.