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Albert Lea school board approves move to four-day in-person learning

The Albert Lea school board voted unanimously Monday night to move to a four-day in-person learning format for all age levels starting in the fourth quarter. 

Based on multiple contributing factors, Albert Lea Superintendent Mike Funk presented the school board with a plan that would get students the maximum amount of facetime, while still adhering to the guidelines in place by the Minnesota Department of Education. 

The plan would begin March 22 with all elementary, middle school and secondary students attending in-person four days per week, Monday through Thursday.  Elementary school students will start at the same time but end at 2:30 p.m., middle school students will be in class from 9:15 a.m. to 3:55 p.m., and high school students will be in class from 9:15 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. 

Funk said the release times for middle and high school students were pushed back to allow enough time for buses to drop off elementary students and return to pick up the middle and secondary students. He also said these times are consistent with many other schools in the Big Nine Conference.

Friday would be used as a distance learning day to provide teachers the mandatory preparation time as well as allow for the schools to be properly cleaned.

Students will also have the option to switch to a full-time distance learning model if they choose. 

Daycare will be provided at each elementary school from 2:30 to 4 p.m. free of charge with transportation included if necessary. Tier one daycare will still be provided at Hawthorne Elementary on Fridays. 

Funk said the rationale for returning to more days of in-person learning was manyfold. It provided the maximum amount of facetime with students, all staff who medically qualified have been offered the vaccine, it provides flexibility to switch back to a hybrid model should a spike in cases occur, and it’s what is best for the students with the limitations of operating during a pandemic environment. 

Despite voting in favor of the change, board member Dennis Dieser voiced some concerns. 

“I’m struggling in my mind that we throw them back in four days a week,” Dieser said. “I agree with everything that’s being done, all the research and the time, but there’s so many hidden things in there and we’re not going to know until we cross them. You just don’t want to put the administration and staff through everything just to find out it’s not going to work and then flip it back again.”

Aaron Farris, who represents Albert Lea’s senior class at board meetings, shared with the board that while he himself is in favor of returning to school in a four-day model, that sentiment is not shared with a majority of his classmates and student body. Farris said many of the students he has talked to view the hybrid model as easier. Esther Yoon, another student body representative, echoed Farris’s statements and added that many students just are not comfortable with the idea of coming back full time. 

Despite the concerns, the motion passed 7-0.

“I know this has not been easy for the community,” said board member Jill Marin. “I know that staff and the administration have been working hard, as well as the students. I appreciate all of the efforts everyone has put in. I know changes are not easy. This will be another change for families, but I feel good knowing that the model we had for most of the year was sustainable.”

About Tyler Julson

Tyler Julson covers sports for the Albert Lea Tribune.

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