Falls High School students will return to in-person learning four days a week beginning Monday.
Students’ return comes just one day shy of the anniversary of Falls school shuttering its doors on March 16, 2020, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. While most Minnesota schools were ordered to close March 18, a district staff member in quarantine pushed Falls schools to take action two days earlier.
“It seems like so long ago, but also just yesterday,” Falls Superintendent Kevin Grover said. “It’s been a whirlwind... I don’t think anyone could have thought something like this would have happened.”
When school officials in September were making decisions about what the academic year would look like, it was decided to divide high school students into two groups: The first would attend school in-person on Monday and Tuesday, while distance learning the rest of the week; the second group would be in the building Thursday and Friday, while distance learning for the first part of the week.
Now, seven months later, a more normal schedule will take effect.
“I feel it’s important to get kids back here.” Grover said. “We have to accommodate and take the next step for as many as we can, while respecting everyone’s choice.”
The superintendent said he felt it is important to return students to more of a full-time model, even with only two months of school left in the academic year.
“Education is part of it, but to help with the mental side, too,” he said. “Two months is a long period of time... Even if it was a month, I think it’s worth getting back in as much as we can to help with some of the mental needs... It’s worth taking that next step to help families, to help kids, to help staff.”
Distance learning will continue to be offered for families who choose that option, and every Wednesday at Falls High School will continue to be a distance learning day for all students. The mid-week day allows teachers time to touch base with students who choose not to return to the classroom.
With local cases of COVID-19 staying low and vaccinations starting to roll out, school officials surveyed families to gain insight on their preferences for how many days students will be in the building.
On March 5, Grover told The Journal out of 360 responses, 86 percent favored students in the classroom four days a week.
And while the shift is one step toward a more-normal situation, Grover said it’s not time to let guards down.
“We will continue to promote the importance of following protocol of masking, sanitizing and distancing as much as we can,” he said. “It’s all the more reason to practice those things.”
On top of the list of importance is people staying home if they are feeling ill.
“We have to be stringent on that piece,” Grover said. “It’s an important part of keeping everybody safe... We appreciate the support the majority of people have given us.”
International Women’s Day was recognized Monday in Borderland with an informal gathering at Smokey Bear Park.
Several women and advocates for women addressed a crowd of about 50 people about the importance of celebrating the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women.
Ashley Hall, who helped organize the gathering, gave a personal testimony on what they day meant to her.
“I’ve gone through some things personally where I’ve felt uncomfortable in rooms, I’ve been spoken over, I’ve had men attack me for a lack of a better word, and this was in the last couple of months,” she said. “So when International Women’s Day came up, and the theme is Choose the Challenge, I thought what more perfect timing for this.”
Sharing a glimpse of her experiences on social media prior to Monday’s gathering inspired women from all over Koochiching County to reach out to Hall to share their stories, she said.
“It’s heartbreaking and it’s maddening,” she said. “It’s 2021 and this is still going on, but I do believe we can change it and make a difference... I feel like there’s hope.”
Rep. Rob Ecklund agreed.
Growing emotional, Ecklund said he celebrates the strong women in his family, his community and those he serves with in the legislature.
“There’s no doubt there’s been incredible progress toward gender equity goals,” he said. “It’s important to recognize none of it magically happened on its own... It wouldn’t have been possible without efforts like today’s gathering.”
Mother Nature seems to have chased Old Man Winter from Borderland quickly in the past few days.
In response, a few signs of the times — between seasons — are appearing giving the promise of an early spring.
Voyageurs National Park is no longer recommending travel on frozen lake surfaces within the park.
And, Tim Lessard, Ranier, reported Tuesday he has spotted gulls and swans on the Rainy River, east of International Falls. He also was among the first to report the bird’s return one day earlier in 2020.
The gulls of Borderland have returned, and that means, according to local folk lore, three more snowstorms before Old Man winter tucks in the for summer.
On Tuesday, when temperatures climbed into the 60s pushed by high winds, VNP officials reported that ice conditions are deteriorating quickly. Standing water and large areas of slush are appearing on frozen lake surfaces.
Park trail markers and hazard signs will be removed this week.
This year’s ice roads and all snowmobile routes are closed, as well as the Sphunge Island sledding hill. Other winter recreation trails in Voyageurs National park are no longer being maintained.
Visitors are welcome to come and hike the Oberholtzer Trail, the Rainy Lake Recreation Trail, and other park trails as conditions permit.
The Rainy Lake Visitor Center is open Friday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and park headquarters is open Monday through Friday 8:30 am. to 4:30 p.m.
Minnesota is expanding vaccine eligibility as the state reaches its goal of vaccinating 70 percent of Minnesotans 65 years of age and older this week.
More than 1.8 million Minnesotans will become eligible to receive a vaccine beginning this week.
Koochiching County Public Health officials, in a statement, said they were excited to hear the governor is allowing public health and health care providers to move into the next phases of the vaccine distribution.
"This will bring us one step closer to the end of this pandemic," they said.
Providers have been directed by the state to prioritize people in the first of these phases, which includes Minnesotans with specific underlying health conditions; food processing plant workers; and Minnesotans with rare conditions or disabilities that put them at higher risk of severe illness. Providers will then have the flexibility to provide available appointments to other eligible Minnesotans.
County officials said once the county is through its list of people 65 years of age and older, it will create public clinics whenever public health officials get vaccine for the newly-eligible phases.
"We will no longer be taking names for a list as these phases have vast amounts of people in them," local officials said.
The clinics will be announced at https://prepmod.health.state.mn.us/clinic/search. Through this website, people can register for a clinic and select an appointment time.
"We will only be putting clinics on when we have vaccine in hand to avoid any need for rescheduling or canceling appointments," they said.
Check this website regularly, as clinics will be added each time public health receive vaccines.
The state's announcement Tuesday comes three weeks ahead of schedule after the state moved quickly to use more vaccine from the federal government.
1.8 million eligible
This expedited time line is a result of the expansive, robust network of options Minnesota stood up to get shots to everyone across the state. Minnesota providers are quickly vaccinating patients as the federal government ships even more doses to states. To provide more flexibility to providers and get critical protection against COVID-19 to even more Minnesotans, two additional phases will be eligible for the vaccine beginning Wednesday.
Phase 1b Tier 2 populations, including:
Phase 1b Tier 3 populations, including: