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Albert Lea district planning for in-person learning for K-5, hybrid for 6-12

The Albert Lea school district is planning for in-person learning this fall for students in kindergarten through fifth grade and a hybrid approach for students in sixth through 12th grades based on guidance provided Thursday by state officials, Superintendent Mike Funk said. 

The state guidance from the Minnesota departments of education and health gives districts the flexibility to toggle between in-person learning, online learning or a hybrid model, depending on local COVID-19 case numbers per 10,000 over 14 days. No matter which option a district chooses, the plan allows students and teachers to choose remote learning.

Funk said he was pleased with the plan unveiled by the state Thursday that gives districts flexibility to choose based on local data. 

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“We’re a pretty big state, and the virus impacts different parts of the state in different ways,” he said. “I appreciate it’s a local decision based on hard data.” 

Republicans and some school officials had pressed Gov. Tim Walz to leave reopening plans up to individual districts, arguing that local administrators know best how to protect students.

State health and education officials last month asked school districts to prepare for three scenarios: in-person learning for all students, distance learning as in the spring, or a hybrid learning scenario with social distancing and capacity limits.

During the Thursday press conference, the state leaders asked districts to follow an equation based on case data, along with local public health input, in making their decisions. The model each district chooses could change based on increased or decreased cases in the community. 

Officials said as of Thursday, 181 districts across the state would meet the guidelines to have in-person learning for all students; 230 districts would meet guidelines for in-person learning for elementary students and hybrid learning for secondary students; 107 would meet guidelines for a hybrid approach for all students; seven would meet guidelines for hybrid learning for elementary students and distance learning for secondary students; and nine would meet guidelines for distance learning for all students. 

Funk said based on current data, Freeborn County is at a little over 11 cases per 10,000 over 14 days, which places it in the learning model for in-person learning for elementary students and hybrid learning, involving some in-person and some distance learning, for secondary students. He said data shows that children in kindergarten through fifth grades are not at as much risk for contracting COVID-19 and are not at as much risk for spreading the virus.

Under the state’s plan, all students, staff and other people present in school buildings or riding on school transportation vehicles will be required to wear a face covering. Funk acknowledged that while face masks will be difficult for some students to wear, staff will work with parents on an individual basis where this may be a concern. He said parents should not feel like they need to keep their child at home because their child struggles with keeping a mask on. 

He noted every teacher will receive a face shield and a mask, and some districts are providing shields  to others as well for safety. The state is providing a cloth face covering for every K-12 student and staff member and three disposable masks per student. 

“We’re going to try to do what we can to keep our kids safe,” he said. 

He said the full district administration will meet Friday about the plans, and a survey is expected to go out to families midday on Friday. The survey will ask families whether they want their student to go purely online for the first quarter or in-person. 

“Parts of our decision-making will be looking at the trend data, too,” he said. “I think it’s real important for people to know that the local conditions influence how we’re going to be in school.” 

He encouraged people to follow the health guidelines recommended, including social distancing and wearing masks. 

He said he is hopeful the district will not have to jump between models throughout the year and asked for people’s patience. 

“These are challenging times, and we appreciate the community’s flexibility in all of this,” he said. 

He will share the state guidance with the school board on Monday night, and he said he will be recommending to the board that the district adhere to the guidelines provided by the departments of education and health. 

He said his recommendation is still to start school as scheduled on Aug. 20, with sixth and eighth graders coming back on Aug. 19 for orientation. 

There is also discussion about having Friday be a distance learning day for the entire district to allow time for all of the buildings to be deep cleaned. 

Funk said he has heard a variety of responses from teachers about returning to school. While some cannot wait to get back, others are concerned. He noted staff will also be surveyed to see if they or a family member has an underlying health condition and might not be able to return to work. He said the plan is to utilize these staff as online instructors. 

District administration will also meet with union leadership to work through concerns they might have, and at the building level, building leaders will meet with principals to work through concerns. 

 

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.