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Albert Lea students head back to school

Albert Lea Area Schools reopened their doors for students on Monday with several safety measures in place because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hawthorne Elementary School Principal John Mahal said he was pleased with how smoothly the morning went at his school as students arrived at 7:45 a.m. with masks in place, walked through thermal scanners and then went to their classrooms.

“It was fantastic to see kids again — to see families again,” Mahal said. “Everyone’s excited and happy to be back. It was a long time coming.”

Once in the classroom, staff and students were then required to fill out a questionnaire about whether they have COVID-19 symptoms.

Mahal said parents did a great job of prepping their children for the day. He estimated about 75% of the children that would have been attending Hawthorne this year were signed up to attend in-person, while about 25% will do distance learning for the first quarter.

“It’s a higher percentage than I would have guessed, but every family has to make that decision that’s best for their child,” he said.

Elementary students doing the in-person learning format will attend school four days a week and do virtual learning the fifth day, while students at Southwest Middle School and Albert Lea High School will have a hybrid approach with two days of in-person learning coupled with distance learning for the other days.

No students will attend in-person on Fridays across the district.

Elementary students were released early on Monday because of high heat indices and are expected to get out of school at 11:15 a.m. through Thursday for the same reason.

Mahal said each student will be able to eat lunch before leaving for the day.

He said the decision was made to be proactive for the safety of the students riding the buses who are required to wear masks.

“We wanted to be proactive,” he said.

Tonya Franks, principal of Halverson Elementary School, said COVID-19 procedures went well at her school as well Monday morning.

The school has a makeshift sidewalk set up so families could drop off their children at the drop-off point on Todd Avenue, and then the students could then walk up to enter the school.

She said pretty much all of the children were masked and no elevated temperatures were detected.

“It was so exciting to see them,” Franks said. “We are looking forward to having kids in our hallways and kids in our classrooms.”

Franks said there are well established plans in place for the safety of students and staff, and she looks forward to the school year getting underway and seeing students every day.

She is optimistic COVID-19 cases in Freeborn County will remain low and continue to allow students to attend school in-person.

“It was a really solid start to the year,” she said.

John Double, who is leading the district’s Distance Learning Academy, said as of the end of last week, 780 students were signed up to participate in the distance learning format.