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As Minnesota school districts announce plans for the upcoming academic year, the Falls School Board Monday continued discussion on what the local format could look like when school begins Sept. 8.

No action was taken during Monday's special meeting, however, Superintendent Kevin Grover presented options for the board to consider as education navigates through the COVID-19 pandemic.

The draft of a plan to safely reopen schools is expected to be released later this week and the board could take final action on it Aug. 17.

“The thought was to throw out everything we've thought about with respect to getting students back to school,” Grover said Monday.

Gov. Tim Walz, along with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), announced July 30 Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year. School districts will begin in one of three models: in-person, distance learning, or a hybrid model. Experts will partner with local school districts to help determine which learning model they should use to start the school year.

School districts are required by state officials to give families the option to choose distance learning for their student no matter which learning model their school district is implementing.

“If families choose distance learning, it's a valid choice. It's a respected choice,” Grover said.

Options presented to the board Monday dealt with in-person instruction and included estimates of costs to the district should additional staff need to be hired. Options also listed the possibility of not offering preschool, but instead childcare.

“There's pieces I don't like in all of the plans,” Grover said. “I don't have the crystal ball and don't know how things are going to go.”

  • Option A: Preschool changes to childcare and is covered by paraprofessionals. Kindergarten through fifth grade runs hybrid, attending daily with reduced class sizes. The three preschool teachers would be assigned to other grades to bring class sizes down to acceptable numbers. The cost would be about $155,000 to hire one additional teacher and two paraprofessionals.
  • Option B: Preschool would be offered, but would need three additional rooms. Kindergarten through third grade would attend in hybrid model daily. Grades 4 and 5 would be in the classroom two days a week and distance learning other days. The cost to hire one additional teacher and possibly another paraprofessional is about $55,000.
  • Option C: Preschool runs at Falls High School using six rooms. Kindergarten through fifth grade would attend daily in a hybrid model at Falls Elementary School. The cost would be about $200,000 to hire about three additional teachers. One position could partially be covered with title funds.
  • Option D: Preschool would run with four rooms used at FHS. Kindergarten through second grade would attend daily in hybrid model. Third through fifth grade would attend two days per week in hybrid model and rest of the week distance learning. The cost is about $25,000.
  • Option E: Preschool changes to childcare with one preschool teacher overseeing activities and continuing Early Childhood Family Education. The other two preschool teachers would be assigned to other grades. Kindergarten through fifth grade would attend hybrid, daily. The cost to hire two additional staff is about $162,000.

Grover said at Falls High School, adjusting schedules is turning into a harder task than originally thought. The plan is high school students will attend school two days a week and distance learn three days a week.

“We will know more as the week goes on,” Grover said Monday.

Survey results

Grover said about 80 percent of people who answered a survey administered by school officials, said they would be interested in sending their students back to school for in-person instruction. A total of 836 surveys were returned, and staff are reaching out families who did not respond to gain additional feedback on the upcoming school year. Grover said about 150 surveys were not returned, and thanked those who participated. 

At the elementary level, Principal Missy Tate said 114 students are doing distance learning, home schooling or going to another school that has already decided to offer in-person instruction five days a week.

At Falls High School, Principal Tim Everson said about 16.7 percent of students will not return to the building, and are also seeking options listed by Tate.

When asked for their preference on what school should look like, board members Ted Saxton, Mike Holden, Terry Murray and Michelle Hebner indicated they favored returning students to the school with a hybrid model, meaning social distancing measures are in place with little movement to other areas of the school.

Toni Korpi, Jennifer Windels and Roxanne Skogstad Ditsch favored a model that involved more distance learning and fewer people in the classroom.

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