The Menahga School District will return to in-person learning on Tuesday, Sept. 8.

The school board held a special meeting on Monday to review and approve the reopening and COVID-19 preparedness plan.

Superintendent Kevin Wellen emphasized that it is a working document that will change as dynamics change. “We will monitor and adjust,” he said.

The plan outlines four scenarios:

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  • In-person learning for all students: Full return to school in-person. Social distancing may be used, but not enforced. Per the governor’s order, all staff and students will have face coverings. If families are not comfortable with in-person learning at this time, or if a student is medically compromised, he or she may choose virtual/distance learning.

  • Learning with strict social distancing and capacity limits: Because of the district’s enrollment and classroom sizes, all students would be able to be in the building in this scenario. Social distancing will be enforced and capacity limits put in place.

  • Virtual/distance learning while also implementing the two scenarios above: This option is available, regardless of what model the school is using, in person or hybrid. The document states, “Last spring, schools took a reactive approach to distance learning. We assure you that we will be proactive in providing a meaningful virtual/distance learning experience for those that choose this model. This experience may include live teaching, recorded lessons, social interaction and enhanced teacher interaction.”

  • Distance learning only: This scenario will be put into place if the county data regarding COVID-19 cases indicates the school must be in a distance-learning-only model.

According to the plan, families are being asked to transport children to school, but when possible, space between bus riders will be as much as possible. Face coverings are required.

Students and staff are to use the Minnesota Department of Health screening tool before arriving at school.

“We’re relying on parents to send healthy kids to us,” said Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer.

During the in-person scenario, breakfast carts will be served for each grade level. Elementary students will eat breakfast in their rooms. Grades 5-8 will have grab-and-go breakfasts. High school students will eat breakfast in the commons. Lunch will be at staggered times in the lunchroom. Self-serve items will be minimized. Tables and chairs will be cleaned in between use.

Wellen said families still need to fill out a free/reduced lunch application, even though all students receive free meals, so that the district receives compensatory dollars. He added that he’s trying to get legislation passed so that the forms aren’t necessary.

In the distance-learning scenarios, grab-and-go meals will be available from the school.

The plan also addresses academics, physical education, shared items, childcare, safety, visitors, social emotional relationships, attendance, grading and more. A copy will be available on the Park Rapids Enterprise website.

Board chair Andrea Haverinen inquired about options for families without internet service at home.

Wellen said no one had asked, but the school district could purchase hot spots for virtual/distancing-learning students, not homeschooled students, which is private instruction.

Haverinen said, “We do realize, as a school district, that there are families intentionally choosing to homeschool because they don’t want their kids on the screens all day. If we end up in a distance-learning-only option, those kids will most likely choose homeschool.”

Wellen said principals have taken that into consideration.

Mayer said, “We want to provide the highest quality education for our kids, and without being able to do that with direct instruction, it’s going to be very difficult. Best practice does not include tons of worksheets. Best practice includes direct instruction and interventions everywhere possible, and that’s really what our goal is. We want to provide the most normal school day as we possibly can.”

Wellen added that he is taking the message of “local control” to St. Paul, saying rural Minnesota schools should not be treated like Metro schools.

As of Aug. 31, Mayer reported that 52 elementary students have opted for distance learning and 239 for in-person instruction. Middle School Principal Anne Wothe said 62 students chose distance learning, while 233 will attend school in person. High School Principal Mark Frank said 62 students selected distance learning, 165 in person and 49 PSEO full-time.

Wellen noted that about 60 kids had not yet responded with a decision.

In other business, the board did as follows:

  • Accepted letters of resignation from Lindsay Hendrickson, paraprofessional, effective Aug. 31; Meri Carstensen, paraprofessional, effective Sept. 8; Noel Johnson, bus driver, effective Aug. 31; and Terry Weston, bus driver, effective Aug. 24, and thanked them for their years of service.

  • Approved a two-year contract with Wellen for 2021-23.