The Park Rapids School Board heard Monday about unanticipated challenges arising from COVID-19 learning models.

Middle School Principal Shawn Andress and High School Principal Jeff Johnson reported that teachers have been feeling burned out about the extra preparation time involved in preparing lessons for both in-person students and distance learners, as well as the challenges of following up with distance learners’ questions.

Teachers Tom Coborn, Lisa Coborn and Angie Kuehn supported Andress and Johnson’s request to modify the schedule for the in-person learning model, making Friday a distance learning day for all students as it is in the hybrid learning model.

Andress said her “staff is drowning,” and Johnson related a story about finding a teacher almost in tears, saying nobody expected the reality of blending in-person and distance learning to be like this.

Tom Coborn said that lessons for distance learners are different enough from in-person lessons that, in effect, he has to prepare for eight classes a day.

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Kuehn said some of her distance learners are not participating because they are embarrassed to ask questions in front of the class, and it’s harder to remember to touch base with them when she doesn’t see them struggling.

Kuehn said that while following distance learners alongside the in-person learning model is frustrating, the hybrid model “will be crazy too,” and Lisa Coborn agreed.

Lisa Coborn added that nothing can take the place of in-person learning. She also mentioned that connection problems and privacy issues sometimes create difficulties.

Johnson and Andress suggested requiring students to check into each class on Friday morning and leave Friday afternoon for teachers to follow up on students’ questions and correct class work, while facility maintenance personnel will have more time to clean.

Board chair Sherry Safratowich admitted she didn’t expect these issues to be so complicated.

Board member Dennis Dodge said it was his understanding that distance learners would follow the in-person classes via a video life feed, but Johnson said this only works in certain classes, adding that some projects such as small groups don’t work in a distance learning model.

Safratowich said the board could not make a decision based on one hearing, and advised staff members that the school board will revisit the issue at its next meeting, preferably with more input from parents and staff.