The Alexandria School Board held a work session on Monday night to discuss the decision-making process for reopening schools this fall. After some deliberation, the board announced a final decision would come on Aug. 21.
The tentative plan is for elementary students to attend school in person while secondary grades proceed with a hybrid method.
"Now that we have local decision-making guidance, which is important, our county data looks decent to try and get the elementary kids in person," Superintendent Rick Sansted said. "Then we would go with the hybrid model for the secondary kids. Right now, that seems like the best fit with the data that we have, but we need community input. Are parents thinking of distance learning for their child, or do they want to send their kid out in person? Those are the answers we need."
The school is working on a survey to send out to parents on Wednesday, Aug. 5, that would add to the COVID-19 data collected by the county. If the board decides to go with a model with the kids in school, families that are cautious about safety will have a distance-learning option.
"We ask the parents that are concerned to say so in the survey," Sansted said. "It could be that a family member has a significant health concern or the family is just nervous, which is OK. We ask that they tell us so we can plan accordingly and serve their child with a distance-learning model."
State health officials are set to determine a county's number of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 over a two-week period to guide local decisions on whether a district could go back to full in-person instruction, partial in-person instruction or distance learning. And they could require a school to move to a different approach if cases climb.
The Minnesota Department of Health came up with a 14-day COVID-19 rate equation as part of a recommendation plan for schools. Districts are to take its county population and divide it by 10,000. Then they divide that number by the numer of positive cases in a 14-day span.
Using data from Thursday, the state said 181 school districts could be prepared to resume full in-person instruction, 107 could be eligible for a mix of in-person and online learning, and nine districts would be in the threshold to use distance learning. But they cautioned that those figures could change and that local buildings or parent opinions could impact how schools plan for the academic year.
The state is set to use $430 million in federal funding to buy face coverings for teachers, students and staff; increase testing capacity, and scale up cleaning and technology for schools. And state health and education officials said that health and safety would be top priorities in determining if schools could transition back to in-person learning.
The district needs the parent responses to come in quickly to account for several variables.
"We'd like the parents to respond within two days because we need to make staffing plans," Sansted said. "For the parents that don't respond, we will do a follow-up early next week. We need to take the local COVID data into account. We are still over four weeks until school starts, so things can change between now and then. We need to figure out which kids need meals, transportation and that stuff that we plan to offer. It's crunch time."