The Park Rapids School Board adopted a resolution Monday to re-open schools on Sept. 8 with in-person learning as the base learning model, unless public health data indicates otherwise.
The resolution references the Park Rapids Area Reopening Plan Fall 2020, and authorizes Superintendent Lance Bagstad to implement a different learning model if needed.
The plan identifies five possible models – in-person learning for all, in-person for elementary students and hybrid learning at the high school, hybrid for all, hybrid for elementary students and distance learning at the high school, and distance learning for all – to be implemented based on guidance from the Minnesota departments of health and education.
School board member Clayton Hoyt moved to adopt the resolution, and the motion passed unanimously.
Back to high school
School administrators shared updates about their back-to-school plans.
High School Principal Jeff Johnson said that being prepared to “shift gears” between different learning models means training all teachers to use Google Classroom and the “flipped classroom” instructional approach.
He said enrollment is up, with about 12 students opting for full-time distance learning. Asked about students working during the school day and logging in later to watch their classes on video, Johnson said, “We do not want to promote that.”
“When that was all happening in the spring, we lost the rigor,” he said. “We want kids in the feed, watching the lesson. We want them asking questions. We want live contact, even if they’re choosing distance learning.”
Johnson said he wants to divide the first two days of school between hybrid learning “Group A” “Group B,” stressing health and safety procedures. On the third day, he said, the whole student body will begin learning in person.
Middle School Principal Shawn Andress called “fluid” and “pivot” key words for the new school year. She discussed changes designed to keep groups of students from intermingling.
Such changes include scheduling electives by homeroom, so that students move together as a group, and canceling the Camps and Cabins program that mixed students across grade levels.
Rolling lunch tables will be moved into the hallways, where middle school students will eat, Andress said, while non-rolling furniture will move into the cafetorium for elementary lunch.
She said technology devices will be handed out Aug. 24-25 to grades 7-8 and families opting for distance learning – for which 30 students have signed up so far. Also, voice amplifiers have been ordered for some teachers, to relieve vocal strain of talking through a mask.
Mike LeMier, principal at Century Elementary, said 20 elementary students are currently signed up for full-time distance learning.
He stressed creating a safe, calm and predictable environment. For in-person learning, he said, “We really want to create as normal a school as we possibly can,” in spite of face coverings and staggered arrival and dismissal times.
Regarding social distancing, LeMier said, “There are times with our littles that we have to be doing direct instruction on the rug, and we’re going to be closer together, but we’re going to really limit those exposures.”
If hybrid learning is implemented, he said, students will alternate between classroom lesson days and enrichment activity days at home, while teachers will teach the same lesson both days. Noting that elementary students won’t be expected to log in eight hours a day, he said, “I would rather do two things really well than four things kind of OK.”
The principals said they will work to assign students to Groups A and B for the hybrid model, so that siblings are grouped together and to arrange half-capacity bus routes. Hybrid groups will alternate between in-person and distance learning days from Monday to Thursday, and all students will have distance learning on Friday.
Community Education Director Jill Dickinson said summer programs showed preschool-aged children tend to be OK with mask wearing, even more so than adults.
Dickinson said after-school programs will start a little later this year, and adult classes will be held online.
Activities Director Jeremy Nordick said girls tennis, girls swimming and boys and girls cross country are underway, with good-sized teams in each. However, tennis competition will be limited to dual meets; cross country, to three teams per event.
Nordick said the Minnesota State High School League is allowing a training period for football and volleyball from Sept. 14 to Oct. 3, and for baseball, softball and track Oct. 5-24.
Winter and spring sports schedules are still up in the air, he said.
PAWN Director Eva Pohl said special education will follow whatever model Century Elementary is on, with “contingency learning plans” for all three scenarios.
Pohl said certain learning models may present staffing challenges, with different scenarios in force at different schools served by her consortium. This might lead to itinerant staff being unable to move between schools.
Bagstad said food service supervisor J.T. Clark is planning to separate his staff into “pods,” so that if someone is exposed to COVID-19, the won’t all need to quarantine.
Bagstad said the parent drop-off and pick-up area at Century School is moving to the bus loop on the south side of the school, while Johnson said all buses will go through the high school bus loop.
In other business, the school board approved an adjustment to the 2020-21 school calendar.
Bagstad explained that when the calendar was approved in February, several practice e-learning days were built into the school year. Since then, he said, “Things have changed. … We need to get people in, and time to train and prepare for what’s to come.”
He recommended changing the half-day of e-learning on Oct. 15 with an early out for statewide teacher meetings, and the early out day before winter break on Dec. 23, to having no school on both days and adding a pre-service staff day at the end of August, “so that our staff has plenty of time to take the trainings and prepare for Sept. 8 and what’s to come.”
Bagstad said the school year will still have all the required student days after the adjustment.
Johnson said an e-learning day with an early out scheduled for Jan. 20, 2021 – when the school is scheduled to host a BPA competition – may be canceled and change to a normal school day.
School board member Dennis Dodge moved to adopt the amended calendar, and the motion passed unanimously.