Parents have been eagerly waiting to find out more about what back to school will look like this fall. Thursday Gov. Walz announced the state’s Safe Learning Plan. “It will be a first day of school unlike any you’ve seen,” he said.
Walz outlined guidelines districts will follow, while emphasizing there may be more than one model used during the school year depending on how the COVID-19 pandemic evolves in the coming months.
Nevis Superintendent Gregg Parks said more information about the scenario the district will be using when school resumes Sept. 8 will be shared at least a week before school opens. Parks is the district’s overall COVID-19 coordinator.
“Our planning team has put in countless hours of planning for the three scenarios identified by the governor,” Parks said in an interview with the Enterprise. “We believe we have worked out a plan which allows us to provide our students a quality education in an uncertain and constantly changing environment. We know there is no way to completely eliminate the chance of exposure, but we believe by following the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines, we are lowering the opportunity for infection. One point that we really want to emphasize is that parents who want to keep their kids at home can, regardless of what the scenario is. We’ll make every accommodation for them.”
Elementary Dean of Students Shawn Klimeck and Principal Brian Michaelson are also helping coordinate the COVID-19 plan.
Michaelson shared information about their plans at Monday night’s school board meeting. He started out by saying parents of 42 students (19.7 percent) have indicated they are planning to keep their student at home with distance learning this fall. Teachers will film all classroom lessons so those students can watch them live or through a link.
Fridays will be distance learning days for all students, regardless of which scenario is being used. That will allow time for teachers to work on distance learning lessons and connect individually with students and parents online.
While in school, students will be kept in cohorts as much as possible and movement within the building will be limited. Music and library time will be in classrooms and students will go to recess one grade at a time. High school students will stay in rooms with their grade level, and teachers with carts will move between classrooms. Breaks and lunch times will be staggered.
Students riding the bus will have a temperature scan and sanitize their hands before boarding. Students being transported to school by families will have a temperature scan and sanitize their hands before entering the building.
The revised 2020-21 school calendar approved at Monday night’s meeting includes virtual parent teacher conferences rather than in-person conferences.
Masks will be required for all staff and for students K-12 since schools are included in Gov. Walz's statewide mask mandate that went into effect July 25.
The district is in the process of ordering two masks for each student in addition to those the state is providing.
“Just like we did last spring with the homework pickup and dropoff, we’ll have pickup sites before school starts,” Parks said. “Parents can come and pick up a Chromebook for their student and a mask as well.”
He also encouraged parents of younger students to buy their child a mask so they can have more time to get used to wearing them yet this summer.
Pre-K students are not required to wear masks. “The science behind COVID said those kids aren’t really transmitting it,” Parks said. “It’s also a developmental issue.”
Parks said teachers will work with elementary students in the beginning of the year so they know why wearing a mask is necessary.
“Not all students will be comfortable wearing a mask,” he said. “Pre-existing health conditions may make it difficult to comply. If this is the case, we encourage parents to obtain a note from their doctor and then contact the school. We will work with our families to develop reasonable accommodations.”
Parents survey results
Nevis School conducted a survey of parents and asked them which scenario they would choose.
Scenario 1 was preferred by 68.5 percent of parents. Under this plan, all students would return to the school building with students attending classes Monday through Thursday.
Scenario 2 was preferred by 22.7 percent of parents. This hybrid model has students part-time in the building and part-time distance learning. Schools and buses would be at 50 percent capacity and students would be held strictly to the six-foot social distance rule.
Scenario 3 was preferred by 8.8 percent of parents. Under this plan, all students would remain at home using distance learning full time.