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Albert Lea school district readies for start of new year

More than 750 students are expected to begin the school year through the distance learning model on Monday with the Albert Lea school district, school officials said earlier this week at the school board meeting.

That number is likely to have changed as the week continued.

All other students will start in one of two models: in-person learning at the elementary school level and hybrid learning at the middle school and high school levels. The hybrid model incorporates two shortened days of in-person learning in the classroom and three days of distance learning.

John Double, who is leading the distance learners through the Distance Learning Academy,  said though distance learning is a flexible model of learning, students are expected to attend all scheduled virtual class meetings and to complete all online assignments. It will blend interactive video classroom lessons and online work.

The days will be set up similar to the schedules for the other learning models.

Elementary students will start their school days at 8 a.m. and will be asked to sign on at that time.

The school day will include group classes plus specialists,  such as music and art, and small group/individual times, Double said.

Students in kindergarten through second grade will utilize iPads, while students in third through fifth grades will utilize Chromebooks.

Middle-schoolers will follow an adjusted schedule from the middle school to accommodate an hour lunch with six classes and one study or elective period, he said.

These students will utilize Chromebooks.

The high schoolers in the Distance Learning Academy will follow the high school’s schedule with six classes and a study period  or elective.

Double said students will be required to check in daily or they will be considered absent.

He said as of the beginning of the week, 250 of the distance learners were in high school, 120 were in the middle school and the remainder were at the elementary school level.

Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk said the district was identifying counselors who could work with students who are both in-person and in distance learning.

Double said the district has been doing the best it can to accommodate AP or CIS classes for distance learning students and said in some cases the hybrid teachers of those classes might also have the distance learning students join in.

Albert Lea High School Principal Mark Grossklaus stressed that on the days of distance learning for the students in the hybrid program, they are expected to participate each day, and there will be daily deadlines for when assignments should be completed.

“We are not having days off,” he said. “Our community needed them when this all started, but kids are in school even if they’re virtual.”

He said grades and academic expectations will be returning to normal, whereas at the end of the last school year students were given simply a pass or fail score.

Southwest Middle School Principal Chris Dibble emphasized the same message when he presented about his school’s expectations.

“All days of instruction are equally important and the expectation is that students are online every day,” he said.

Regarding other operations, Jennifer Walsh, director of finance and operations, said an adult bus monitor is being assigned for all routes, and thermal scanners were expected to be in place before the start of school at each building.

Every student will also have to complete screening questions each day to be at school.

The school board during the meeting approved a resolution adopting the base learning models for the upcoming year but designated Funk to change the model without a formal board meeting based on COVID-19 conditions happening in the community.