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School board approves 2021-22 calendar, sets date for return of in-person learning in January

The Albert Lea Area school board on Monday voted to approve the 2021-22 school year calendar, as well as set a new date for schools to return to at least partially in-person classes in the spring semester. 

The board approved a new start date of Jan. 8 to begin the second semester with elementary returning to four days of in-person learning and secondary returning to a hybrid model. The first day back would be a distance learning day for all students. 

The original start date of Jan. 6 was moved back to allow teachers two full days to prepare for a return to in-person learning. 

Albert Lea District Superintendent Mike Funk cited the low number of internal cases of COVID-19 within the district, the positivity rate being within the 5% range and the declining county-wide case count in his recommendation of the new start date. 

According to Funk, the district has two currently active cases and the number of cases in the past 14 days per 10,000 people is expected to drop below the recommended guidelines by the Minnesota Department of Education by the end of the month. 

Board member Neal Skaar said he was happy with the recommendation to bring children back into the school buildings. Skaar said he believes having kids in the buildings is the safest place they could be. 

“If the district did not have any plan in place, any protocols, any procedures, having full-fledged school would be a very bad idea,” Skaar said. “But we do. I’ve made the statement several times, I firmly believe that with all the protocols and procedures we have in place, school is probably the safest place the kids could be.”

The MDE will also have new protocols in place for the start of the new semester. On top of the thermal scanning and active screening questions the district already has in place, all adults that interact with students will be required to wear a face mask or shield. This includes but is not limited to, teachers, paraeducators, cooks and bus drivers. All staff members will also have COVID-19 testing available to them every two weeks. 

“This is something that I’ve wanted for some time,” said board member Ken Peterson. “As I follow what other states are doing, even New York is going back. The recommendation from the CDC is that younger students have the opportunity to get back in schools, so I think this is a great step.”

The board voted unanimously to approve the new start date. 

The board also approved the calendar for the 2021-22 school year. In the calendar, the first day of school would be Aug. 19, 2021. In the weeks leading up to the first day of school, Aug. 9-11 would be set aside for new teacher workshops, Aug. 12-18 would be district days for all staff and Aug. 18 would be used for sixth- and eighth-grade orientation. The final day of the first semester would be Dec. 22, and classes would resume for the second semester Jan. 6, 2022. Commencement for the high school would be May 20, and the final day of school would be May 24. 

The board voted 4-2-1 to approve the schedule. Board members Jill Marin and Angie Hanson voted against the approval and Dennis Deiser chose to abstain. 

The board also voted unanimously to withdraw from the current property and casualty insurance plan set up through Minnesota Insurance Scholastic Trust (MIST). The district will work with AJ Gallagher to look for a new policy. The board cited a significant increase in the premium as the reason for attempting to find a new provider. 

In other action, the board: 

  • Voted 7-0 to approve the 2019-20 school district audit report. 
  • Voted 7-0 to amend an abatement that had been approved in the past, but has now changed ownership. 
  • Voted unanimously to approve combined polling places for school district elections not held on the day of a statewide election in 2021. 
  • Voted unanimously to approve the contract of the Executive Directors of Administrative Services, Community Education, Special Service and Teaching and Learning through the year 2023. 

 

About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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