The Park Rapids School Board on Monday discussed how to educate students during a state-mandated school closure that went into effect Tuesday.

Superintendent Lance Bagstad said all school facilities are closed, and all public events and activities are postponed or canceled.

“We are practicing social distancing, our hygiene, and we’re encouraging everybody, if they’re ill, to stay home, let us know,” he said. “We’ll get through this.”

Bagstad said they’ve been given two weeks to develop “an equitable and accessed distance learning plan” as well as a plan to serve students’ nutritional needs.

Ongoing services

“We will be offering grab-and-go breakfast, snack and lunches … for all students up to 18,” Bagstad said. “We’ll have curbside pickup at Century from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and we’ll have home delivery to be offered to those families with medically fragile children and to those who do not have transportation.”

He said families interested in food delivery need to ask to be on the list as soon as possible. They can contact food service director JT Clark at 237-6561 or jtclark@parkrapids.k12.mn.us.

Community Education Director Jill Dickenson said the district is offering child care from 6:45 a.m. to 6 p.m. for healthcare and emergency services workers at Century School.

Dickinson said school paraprofessionals will ensure children stay in small groups, and transportation will also be offered.

Meanwhile, Dickinson said, a March 25 trip to Washington, D.C. has been postponed to September.

Distance learning plan

“We’re going to start educating kids again March 30,” said Bagstad. “We don’t know if they’re going to be here or not. We’re planning. We’re preparing. We’re going to be training, and we’re going to be implementing a distance learning plan – planning it to be weeks, months, the rest of the year.”

Calling the next two weeks “an extended spring break” for students, Bagstad said the staff will be using them to prepare “something that has never been done before” and that they have already had a “lively conversation with tons of questions” with the state’s education commissioner.

“We’re probably going to make mistakes along the way,” he said, “but we’re not looking for ‘perfect.’ We’re looking for ‘good’ to move forward. … We’re going to make the best that we possibly can. We’re not going to cut corners.”

Administrator reports

Principals Jeff Johnson (high school) and Shawn Andress (middle school) described a unique school day on Monday, during which students cleaned out their lockers and registered for the spring term.

“As much as we don’t want to treat this like the last day of school, we need to treat it like we’re not going to be here for a while,” said Johnson.

He said teachers spent time urging students to maintain social distance outside of school, talking about postponing events like the prom, reassuring them about distance learning and making sure they have passwords for Google Classroom, Student View and email.

“A lot of kids are walking down the hall, and seniors saying, ‘Mr. Johnson, this isn’t going to be my last day of school, is it?” he said. “No, we hope it’s not. We’re going to have some closures, and we’re going to have school in different ways.”

“None of us have ever done this,” said Andress, describing similar activities at Century School. “I addressed the kids over the PA, that these next eight days aren’t a vacation but a reset for the next stage of our time together, not knowing what that’s going to look like.”

“You would be proud of all of our staff,” said Elementary Coordinator of Educational Services Steph Mercil, describing them as calm but fond of their students. “As we walked out the door, some kids were like, ‘See you tomorrow!’ They don’t really understand what this means.”

Eva Pohl, director of PAWN Special Education, compared the process of modifying individualized educational plans (IEPs) for distance learning to “building an airplane in flight.”

Regarding speech, occupational and physical therapy and mental health care, Pohl noted, “There are certain HIPAA things we need to honor when we’re thinking about the platforms we use, so we’re trying to figure that all out.”

High School Activities Director Jeremy Nordick said that all sports statewide are shut down until March 27. As of now, he said, teams can start practicing April 6. All campus athletic facilities are closed.

An ‘aha’ moment

After the meeting, Bagstad commented, “We have some awesome people who ... truly care about kids and instruction, and they’re going to bring up some creative and innovative ideas.”

He said all school staff will continue to be employed during the shutdown. “They have a job to do,” he said. “We need them.”

Their main areas of focus will be the equitability of access to learning to all student populations. “That’s the real challenge,” Bagstad said. “We have 1,700 students that we need to plan for. Each one has different learning needs.”

He added that the current situation could lead to long-term advances in public education. “There’s going to be some really cool stuff coming out of this,” said Bagstad. “I’m excited. I believe this will be an ‘aha’ moment for a lot of folks, to say we could do things different; we could do things better. We can make this an experience of learning and having opportunities for kids that would be more beneficial for their needs.”