The Alexandria School District has called off classes Monday, March 16, to make preparations for online learning should the coronavirus pandemic cause schools to be closed for an extended time.

The district announced shortly before 12:30 p.m. Sunday that it was closing school on Monday, March 16 .

The announcement comes in the wake of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announcing on Sunday morning that all K-12 schools in the state are closing from Wednesday, March 18, through at least Friday, March 27. (see related story).

Within a couple of hours, the district announced it would also close Monday. In a letter that was emailed to parents and also posted on the district's website later Sunday, Superintendent Julie Critz explained that initial announcement was to give families as much time as possible to make arrangements for Monday's closing.

Several dozen other schools in Minnesota are also closing Monday, including Brandon-Evansville and Minnewaska. They will also both be open to students Tuesday.

Osakis and Parkers Prairie will hold classes Monday and be closed on Tuesday.

"The governor’s executive order was put in place to allow students to plan for possible distance learning over a long period of time, should there be a need for that," Critz said. "Our plans for Monday and Tuesday of this week will set us up for deployment of distance learning, should we need to do this for an extended period of time."

The Minnesota Department of Education and the governor’s office provided further guidance in plans formulated by the Alexandria district in the event schools do not reopen for classes on Monday, March 30.

Alexandria Public School students will not have school Monday, but certified and support staff are being asked to report to work and prepare instructions and materials to pass along to students on Tuesday, when school will be in session.

High school and middle school students are familiar with accessing their instructional materials online, Critz said, but that is not true of elementary students.

"Prior to Wednesday, when all schools will be closed for the planning phase, our teachers need to prepare students for learning through a distance learning model," she said.

By the end of the school day on Tuesday, students who will be using devices will have them in their possession and have been given instructions by teachers, "ensuring that students are prepared to engage in the distance learning model of instruction in the future. "

In grades 5-12, that includes checking students' Chromebooks to make sure they are working, and log-in information for needed websites. Students in grades 2-4 will be sent home with their Chromebook devices.

Students will also be asked to take home their personal items that will help them over the next several weeks in the event schools remain closed into April.

Students who do not have access to the internet should notify their teacher so other arrangements can be made.

The superintendent acknowledged the uncertainty of the COVID-19 situation and the fast-changing circumstances surrounding it, and that some parents may wish to not send their children to school on Tuesday. In that event, she asked parents report their child's absence as they usually would.

"You know what’s best for your child, and we will respect our decision if you believe it is necessary to keep your child home on Tuesday and when school resumes on March 30," Critz said.

Child care

When Walz and other state officials held a press conference on the coronavirus situation on Friday, one reason cited for not closing schools was over concerns about health care workers. If they need to stay home with young children, it would keep them from caring for the sick.

The executive order the governor signed Sunday requires schools to provide care for elementary-age children of health care professionals, first responders and other emergency workers during previously-planned school days.

Critz said that anyone fitting this description, regardless of whether they currently have a contract with the district, can call Community Education for further information at 320-762-3310.

On Monday, all Compass school-age child care sites will be open for registered families. Shenanigan's indoor playground will be closed that day.

One other aspect of the state's announcement was that schools continue providing meals to students in need, and that they set up continued school mental health services.

The Alexandria district is working on logistics to provide meals to families, Critz said.

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