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Districts continue to plan, prepare for upcoming school year

With the first day of school one month away, local officials are working through plans of what the upcoming year will look like for their districts.

Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, along with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), announced last week Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year.

School districts and charter schools will begin in one of three models: in-person, distance learning, or a hybrid model. Experts at the Departments of Health and Education will partner with local school districts and charter schools to help determine which learning model they should use to start the school year.

The decision-making process centers on the health, safety, and well-being of students, staff, and families by using the level of viral activity in the surrounding county and other factors such as the district’s ability to meet mitigation requirements.

“As a classroom teacher for more than 20 years and a parent of a child in public schools, I am committed to providing a world-class education to our students while keeping them and their teachers safe,” Walz said last week. “With this approach, we are pairing the knowledge and data from our Departments of Health and Education with the expertise of our local school districts to make the best decisions for our students across the state.”

The Departments of Education and Health will work with school districts and local health professionals throughout the school year to help districts decide if and when they need to dial between learning models depending on the progression and cause of the virus in their specific community.

When switching between learning models, the plan prioritizes keeping younger children in the classroom, understanding that transmission is less likely for younger children and that in-person learning is particularly critical at their developmental stage.

The governor is also requiring school districts and charter schools to give families the option to choose distance learning for their student no matter which learning model their school district is implementing. Additionally, the Governor is requiring school districts to allow teachers and school employees to work remotely to the extent possible.

“We know that families, teachers, and students are juggling competing concerns as we approach ‘back to school’ this fall,” Flanagan said. “While some are eager to be back in the classroom, others have very real concerns about health and safety. That’s why the Safe Learning Plan sets the guidelines for how safely a school can reopen, based on regional data and the expertise of public health leaders and local administrators, while still allowing families, teachers, and staff to make the decision to stay home.”

For more information on Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year, visit or see guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education.

Littlefork-Big Falls

Littlefork-Big Falls Schools officials have already made some determinations about the year ahead.

Based on guidance provided by state officials, all students in Pre-K through 12th grade can return to building every day in both the in-person and hybrid plans, Superintendent Jamie Wendt wrote last week on the district’s Facebook page.

“We are fortunate enough to have the space in our building to accommodate all of the students that are currently enrolled with adequate social distancing capability,” she said. “We have made scheduling changes to accommodate social distancing and reducing the number of students transitioning at the same time to reduce congestion in shared spaces.”

Wendt encouraged families to take a district survey at to provide more information about how they’re feeling moving forward.

“We would love to hear from our students, families, and community members regarding school reopening,” Wendt wrote on the school’s Facebook page. “Please fill this out as soon as possible so we can do our best to accommodate the concerns of our students and families as we work to finalize our plans.”

International Falls public schools

The Falls School Board Monday met in special session Monday to discuss options following last week’s announcement by state officials.

To gain input on what families intend to do with their children, Superintendent Kevin Grover and other officials are asking a survey be completed for each student enrolled in the district. As of Monday evening, more than 600 surveys had been filled out.

“Out of roughly 1,000 kids, we’re at 619 (surveys),” Grover said. “What 400 families are doing changes a lot of things.”

Surveys need to be completed by Thursday and Grover pleaded with those who have not taken it yet to do so as soon as possible. In addition, school secretaries plan to call families for their input.

The online survey is available at:

Grover said he and others understand families may be undecided on what works best for their child as the school year approaches, but he’s asking for some direction.

“There are some who are adamant they’re doing distance learning,” he said. “Some on the other hand say if we’re open, their kids are coming back... We need to plan whose in and whose on the bubble. Those numbers can drive what we decide to do.”

Regardless of what model Falls officials choose, Grover said there will be an educational process started soon about students and staff coming to school who are feeling sick.

“If you have any symptoms (of any illness), you cannot come to school,” he said. “Our best defense to being able to stay in school is keeping any illnesses out, even if its not COVID-19.”

He said they’re considering plans to take everyone’s temperature upon arrival to school, but knows that may not weed out exposure.

“(Having a) temperature is only one piece of it,” Grover said. “Plenty of people who have had COVID have not had a temperature...We need to educate and we need everyone’s help.”

More back-to-school planning is underway this week, with additional guidance coming to families soon. The board will again meet in special session at 5 p.m. Monday via Zoom.

South Koochiching — Rainy River

Officials of the South Koochiching – Rainy River School District, which includes Indus and Northome schools, are considering a hybrid model, but haven’t set any decisions in stone.

Superintendent Jeremy Tammi said based on the model provided by the state, the numbers of COVID-19 in the area allow for the entire student population to return to the building.

“We have enough square footage to space everybody out in our buildings,” he said. “Our hybrid model almost looks like in-person learning.”

Still, Tammi said things can change.

Because the two schools cater to students in Koochiching, Beltrami and Itasca counties as well as the Red Lake Indian Reservation, Tammi and others are monitoring the number of COVID-19 cases in each area. Even once a decision is made for the upcoming year, the superintendent said it could change.

“We need to be flexible and try to make the best decisions for kids and families,” he said.

The schools’ planning teams are expected to meet this week and bring a recommendation to the school board when it meets Aug. 12.

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Big Falls Campground project gets underway

BIG FALLS – A project that will expand and upgrade a Koochiching County campground is underway in Big Falls.

The Big Falls Campground project, which has been in the works since 2016, began Monday with ground work and infrastructure for new sites. Once completed, the campground will consist of 30 sites connected to the city's sanitary sewer system.

“This project has been a long time in the making,” said city Clerk Joan Nelson. “It's exciting to see it all come to fruition.”

The nearly $1.3 million grant from the Minnesota Park and Trail Legacy Grant Program will fund:

  • Acquisition of 10 adjoining riverside acres, which was purchased in 2018
  • A net increase of 11 campsites, all with 50 amp electrical hookups, as well as water at most sites
  • Three Americans with Disabilities Act compliant camp sites
  • Installation of an RV dump station
  • Abandonment of the existing sanitary sewer treatment system and connection to the city’s sanitary sewer system
  • Construction of a new restroom/shower house/visitor center building
  • Demolition and abatement of old buildings on the land – and also well sealing

Project's journey

The project has come a long way over the years, Nelson said.

In 2016, the site was designated as a regional park. The designation is a competitive pool, and set the site up for the ability to apply for the legacy funds.

Nelson said components of the grant application that made the Big Falls Campground attractive to those selecting the projects for the grants were plans to abandon the old sanitary treatment system and connect to the city's system.

“It's a lot better for river health,” Nelson said of the Bigfork River that runs alongside the campground. “Having some ADA accessible sites was another big component to why we received the grant.”

While there have been high points of the nearly four-year long process, there have also been hurdles.

While working with the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, areas of archaeological significance were located near the Bigfork River, causing the restructure of plans.

“There is one area near the river that is archaeologically sensitive,” Nelson said. “We had to redo the plans so we wouldn't disturb that area.”

In addition, when bids for the project came in too high, plans had to be redone to fit the budget.

The project is also starting during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been a challenge for the campground.

“We're short on revenue after having to be closed for several months,” Nelson said. “Even now, we're only open to RVs with onboard bathrooms and the shower house is still closed.”

And while the pandemic has created financial headaches, it also allows time for construction.

“Due to this project, there's about six sites that we can't rent out now because of construction,” Nelson said. “That does work out well with numbers down.”

The project will move quickly with a wrap-up date anticipated for the end of September. Rock blasting is scheduled for next week and Nelson said she plans to get information out to residents prior.

“It's going to be a busy month and we do anticipate some inconveniences to campers, we just can't avoid that,” Nelson said. “But after this long process, we are so excited and thrilled for our community. This is going to be a great project that only enhances the wonderful campground we have.”

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What's on Tuesday's ballot?

Tuesday's primary election narrows the field of candidates for many state and federal positions, deciding who will move on for a final vote in the Nov. 3 general election.

Because more than two candidates have filed for several federal positions, races for U.S. Senator and U.S. House District 8 will be on Tuesday's ballot:

  • U.S. Senator: Kevin O'Connor, Liver Steinberg, John L. Breman, Bob "Again" Carney Jr., Cynthia Gail, Jason Lewis, James Reibestein, Steve Carlson, Ahmad R. Hassan, Paula Overby, Christopher Lovell Seymore Sr., and Tina Smith, incumbent.
  • U.S. House District 8: Judith Schwartzbacker; Pete Stauber, incumbent; Harry Robb Welty, and Quinn Nystrom.

How to vote

Vote by mail: Apply to have a ballot mailed to you. You do not need to be registered to apply. To request an absentee ballot for the August primary and/or November general election, go to

Your returned ballot must be postmarked on or before Tuesday's Election Day, and received by your county by the day before the county canvass, which may take place on the second or third day following the election.

More than half of Koochiching County's 22 precincts already vote by mail ballot.

Vote early with an absentee ballot: Go to your local elections office. If you are not registered, you can do so in person if you show proof of residence.

  • For the primary: the last day to vote early in person is Monday.
  • For the Nov. 3 general election: First day to vote early in person is Sept. 18; last day to vote early in person Nov. 2.

For more information, call the Minnesota Secretary of State's Office at 1-877-600-VOTE (8683) or contact your county election office. Or visit the Minnesota SOS website at

Nov. 3 election

The two candidates who have filed each for local Senate and House districts will move onto the Nov. 3 election, because no primary was needed.

  • Senator District 3: Christopher Hogan, Republican; Thomas Bakk, DFL, incumbent
  • Representative District 3A: Thomas Manninen, Republican; Rob Ecklund, DFL, incumbent

The following people have filed for county positions, which will be decided Nov. 3.

  • Commissioner District 3: Brian McBride, incumbent; Terry Murray
  • Commissioner District 5: Wayne Skoe, incumbent
  • Soil and Water Supervisor District 2: George Aitchison, incumbent
  • Soil and Water Supervisor District 3: Eldon Voigt Jr., incumbent

Council cancels festivities, but fireworks are a go

The International Falls City Council Monday agreed to cancel Fourth of July festivities, planned for Labor Day weekend, but will continue plans to offer fireworks that weekend.

Mayor Harley Droba urged the council in a letter to cancel the festivities, which had earlier been postponed to Labor Day weekend due to the pandemic, but to allow the fireworks to go on.

He cited increasing numbers of local positive COVID-19 cases, school guidelines, and a governor’s order about limiting gatherings to 250, in his letter urging canceling.

A community picnic is scheduled for Labor Day by the Koochiching Labor Assembly.

The council Monday tabled action on Droba’s request to remove Laura Manka from the City Beach Citizens Advisory Committee.

Droba asked the council for the action following Facebook posts by Manka, and other community members, which he said were “offensive, vile and straight bullying in nature.

“We will not condone this type of egregious behavior from elected officials, staff or those appointed to city boards and commissions,” he said in the letter.

The discussion was eventually tabled to allow councilors who had not seen the posts to consider the exchanges before acting on proposal to remove Manka from the committee.

Manka, who attended the meeting, apologized for her posts several times and said she went “a little overboard,” but said her posts were intended to point out that some people are not following the rules at City Beach, and those in charge don’t seem to care.

As she explained the situation of the many posts in which she exchanged comments, she included concern about a variety of issues involving City Beach, its finances, the city in general, and some city officials.

Manka began telling he council of her frustration by starting with a May emergency beach committee meeting, when she was not given the correct date for the next meeting. She gave a chronological listing of events, which she suggests show a lack of concern about flagrant violations of City Beach rules, including sitting on rocks posted off limits, and then posting the photos to Facebook.

Manka said when the last example was brought to Droba’s attention, he rolled his eyes at her.

Since the recent Facebook exchanges, which Droba said drew 233 posts, Manka said she has blocked many people who are cyberbullying her, adding she has some issues that may have added to her inappropriate comments.

Droba said he received 26 complaints Saturday from a variety of local people who believed the exchange was inappropriate.

And while Droba made clear the exchanges included offensive and bullying behavior by others against Manka, he said the city must hold those it appoints to a higher standard of behavior than it does other people who do not serve on city committees and board.

Droba, in his letter to the council, wrote that adults are models for their children, and while the cyberbullying was two-sided, “We should not be getting enjoyment from others’ pain. We are all struggling through COVID-19 and how that manifests itself is different for everyone.”