DELANO, MN – For two months, a task force at Delano Public Schools has been working toward a plan for the 2020-21 school year.
“We were so focused on finishing up the year, getting everything complete, but we were already starting to think about next fall, what’s it going to look like?” Superintendent Matt Schoen told the school board Monday.
He shared those plans with the school board, and fielded questions.
Because the meeting occurred before Gov. Tim Walz’s announcement about school Thursday, many things were up in the air, leading the board to schedule a special meeting for 5:45 p.m. Monday, Aug. 3, to discuss the announcement.
The task force has been preparing for three scenarios: a total return to in-person learning, distance learning, or a hybrid of the two. Because the district has grades kindergarten through 12th grade on one campus, Schoen said all schools would use the same scenario.
Schoen explained the hybrid model that would be used if needed.
Students would be split into an A group and a B group alphabetically by last name. The A group would go to school for two days, there would be a day to sanitize the school, and then the B group would go to school for two days.
“That made the most sense with regards to Department of Health safety guidelines,” Schoen said. He added that some students, such as those with Individualized Education Plans, and English language learners, might be on campus more often than their peers.
The task force also considered a model that would have students going to school every other day.
Schoen said the district must be prepared to shift from one scenario to another with only one day’s notice.
“If the Department of Health notifies us our community has an outbreak or has a cluster and we’ve hit a threshold where we can’t conduct school in a normal fashion, we’d have one day,” Schoen said. “If that happened on a Tuesday, we’d have Wednesday for planning for hybrid and, Thursday, you’re in hybrid or you go to distance learning. All those kinds of logistical things will have to be worked out in the next phase.”
If the school year starts with in-person learning, the district will have a plan to best set up the schools to provide as much space for students and staff as possible while following Department of Health requirements.
Schoen noted that the majority of superintendents in Minnesota would prefer to start with in-person learning.
“It makes sense to establish relationships with students and teachers,” Schoen said.
If the district is required to utilize distance learning at any point, it will look different than it did in the spring, Schoen said.
“We noticed in feedback from parents, there were inconsistencies there,” Schoen said. “We have to prepare for a much more structured distance learning format.”
That would include more face time and clear expectations for students, parents, and staff, he added.
School Board Member Amy Johnson asked if families could opt for distance learning even if in-person learning is taking place.
“There are some families that would say, ‘I’m not comfortable. There’s a medical situation with my child or family,’” Schoen said. “We would provide distance learning for them . . . There might be some staff who are very concerned about coming back because of their own situation. They might choose distance learning.”
In addition to surveying parents, the district is also surveying staff “just to find out, of all our employees in the district, if we start in person, who has concerns about that?” Schoen said. “How would we go through the human resources procedure of identifying those individuals? What is the cause and the reason for it?”
Chair Lisa Seguin asked if the staff who are uncomfortable with in-person learning could be designated distance learning teachers for students who will not be learning in person.
“When we run the numbers, it’s difficult,” Schoen said. “We’re not going to have exactly 22 second-grade students deciding to distance learn and can have a teacher with those kids and it all be hunky dory. There might be multi-level distance learning classrooms one teacher can cover . . . We have to look at it in the most equitable way.”
Johnson said she had received suggestions from parents to have high school students do distance learning and spread other grades throughout the high school.
Schoen said there would be concerns about equity and staffing for such a scenario.
Johnson also asked about health checks.
Schoen said that is yet to be decided.
School board members Rachel Depa and Jennie Rosenow expressed concerns about the amount of communication from the district to parents.
“I think some parents we’re hearing from are super involved parents,” Rosenow said. “They’re like, ‘Just tell me you guys are working on it.’ We recognize there were gaps. It went fast. It wasn’t great in the spring. What are we doing to make it better? Say we’re working on this? Maybe a blast every week: ‘We’re working on it. We’re hearing you.’ A lot of them are feeling, ‘We’ve taken three surveys. We’re putting a lot in, but not getting a lot back.’”
Johnson said the communication could be as simple as notifying parents of the task force, topics being discussed, and directing them to the appropriate person for questions about specific topics.
Depa said communication would dispel rumors, including one that the distance learning committee was disbanded. She said the committee was not disbanded, but that it was focused on stretches of five days or fewer, not for long-term distance learning.
Johnson asked about funds the district has to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Schoen said the district received $90,000 in funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, of which about half was spent on Chromebooks.
“We knew we had to get to a one-to-one ratio regardless of the scenario,” Schoen said. “Other funds are specifically for other services, mental health services, or the like.”
The district will also receive a portion of $4.4 million from the county, to be distributed based on the district’s number of pupils from Wright County.
Odds and ends
In other business, the board:
• identified social justice as a topic for a future listening session including students.
• approved a two-year extension of the snow-plowing agreement with JENCO Property Maintenance. The total estimated cost will remain at $23,640.
• accepted $26,067 in donations from seven entities.
• approved the Minnesota State High School League membership resolution.
• approved the first and only read of the following policies due to nonsubstantive and/or legal reference changes: Policy 518 regarding DNR-DNI orders, Policy 519 regarding interviews of students by outside agencies, Policy 520 regarding student surveys, and Policy 521 regarding student disability nondiscrimination.
• approved second and final reads of the following policies due to substantive changes: Policy 514 regarding bullying prohibition, and Policy 515 regarding protection and privacy of pupil records.