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Message from the Superintendent: ISD 728 Learning Model Change

Dear Students, Staff and Families:

It weighs heavy on my heart that I have to share some disappointing news. As an educator, administrator, and parent, I wholeheartedly believe our children learn best in a face-to-face, in-person model. Unfortunately, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases continues to rise in all five of our counties and throughout all of our communities. (County Data and COVID cases in our state).

Despite our tireless efforts to keep our children in school and to navigate the impacts of the virus, we must move our elementary students to a Hybrid Model


Model Change for Elementary Students Currently in the Face-to-Face Model
In accordance with the Governor's mandate and directions from MDH, MDE, and County Public Health Departments, our school district will move into a Hybrid Model for elementary students who are currently being served in the face-to-face model beginning Monday, November 16, 2020. Written differently, if your elementary child is currently enrolled and coming to school every day, Monday through Friday, he/she will begin the Hybrid Model the week of November 16, 2020.

We are planning for elementary students to return to a face-to-face model on March 8, 2021 if the data supports it. March 8, 2021 is the beginning of Trimester 3. The primary reason for this length of time is because public health officials and representatives from the Department of Health have indicated that the number of positive cases will continue to increase and are unlikely to trend below the required threshold throughout this time period.

For more information about what the District’s Hybrid Model looks like, please visit: Hybrid Model Information.

 


Transition and Planning Days
We are committed to continuing to provide a high-quality education for all of our students when we transition to the Hybrid Model. Therefore, there will be NO SCHOOL for ALL elementary students (Kindergarten through Grade 5 - including our distance learning students) on November 11, 12, and 13, 2020. These days will provide time for important planning and preparation, which includes teacher collaboration and instructional planning, making changes inside the classrooms and buildings to meet the social distancing requirements, adjusting transportation schedules, adding signage in schools, adjusting lunchroom procedures and food service, etc. We know this is inconvenient for families and appreciate your understanding and flexibility.

Students participating in our Early Childhood programs (ECFE, ECSE and Preschool) will attend school as they typically do, even on November 11 and 12, 2020. Early Childhood students will still not have school on November 13, 2020.

Elementary Distance Learning Students: This is also true for elementary students who are currently learning through the Distance Learning Option. In other words, no elementary students will have school on November 11, 12, and 13, 2020.

We know this is inconvenient for families and appreciate your understanding and flexibility.

Early Childhood Students: Students participating in our Early Childhood programs (ECFE, ECSE and Preschool) will attend school as they typically do, even on November 11 and 12, 2020. Early Childhood students will still NOT have school on November 13, 2020. 


Early Childhood Programs (ECFE, ECSE and Preschool) 
Our Early Childhood programs will continue to look much the same. Students will attend the days they typically attend and will be put into ratio groups of no more than 10 students with an adult. Due to the design and registration of our early education programs, our classrooms are currently operating in a half-day model with COVID-19 MDH and CDC recommendations in place. The All Day Everyday class will be placed in two (2) separate classrooms. The teacher and the educational assistant or special education assistant will travel between groups. 


Elementary Hybrid Calendar
At the beginning of the school year, all students were assigned to an “A Group” or a “B Group” designation, which can be seen on Infinite Campus Parent Portal (www.isd728.org/portal). To review your child’s Hybrid assignment found in Campus Parent Portal, use the Menu’s “More” option and choose “Day Rotation”.

  • Group A:  In-person learning on Monday & Wednesday.
    At-home learning on Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday.
  • Group B:  In-person learning on Tuesday & Thursday.
    At-home learning on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.


Note: 
The District is not able to accommodate requests to change A/B Day assignments, but has attempted to keep all students within a household on the same schedule. 


Student Expectations in the Hybrid Model
Information related to such things as what instruction will look like when children are not learning in person at school, grading, and attendance will be communicated prior to November 16, 2020. 


Technology Access and Support
All students in Grades K-5 will receive a device to be used at school and at home as part of their hybrid learning experience even though instruction may not always be done digitally and/or through the devices. Instruction is not meant to occur through technology 100% of the time, but we do want to provide access to technology when relevant.

Following the current classroom technology access, Grade K-2 will be issued iPads and Grades 3-5 Chromebooks.

While students in Grades 3 through 12 already have devices, we recognize that that is not necessarily the case for all students in Kindergarten through Grade 2. Despite additional iPads and Chromebooks being ordered last spring and summer in anticipation of an eventual transition, not all devices have been received due to the demands across Minnesota and the nation. As a result, some students in Kindergarten through Grade 2 may not be able to bring devices home during the first few weeks while additional equipment is being delivered and prepared. However, meaningful learning and instruction will continue, and more information will be sent as we get closer to that date if some of the devices have not yet arrived. Parents will also receive a follow up communication in early November regarding the device agreement plan and option to add a protection plan.

K-2 Students

  • In the hybrid model, teachers and students in Grades K-2 will use Seesaw. Seesaw gives your child creative tools to capture and reflect on their learning - in real time. Your child's work can then be shared with you through the parent app, giving you a window into each of our classrooms and into your student’s learning process. Click Here for more information on how to use Seesaw. 
  • Seesaw will be the mode of communication for messages & learning activities for both in-person and at home. If you need assistance with Seesaw login information, contact your classroom teacher. Click Here for instructions and more information on how to use Seesaw.

3-5 Students

  • Schoology is utilized in Grades 3-5. Schoology is an online classroom management system that improves learning through better communication, collaboration, and increased access to curriculum resources. Teachers use Schoology as their primary web presence and is one of the primary tools used to communicate class information, resources and announcements, and to submit digital assignments. Click Here to access resources to assist you in learning more about how to use Schoology.

Childcare Services
ISD 728 will provide free care for school-age children (Kindergarten through Grade 5) who are children of Tier I critical workers* (both parents) starting Monday, November 16, 2020. Children of Tier I workers will be cared for at no cost during the typical school hours. Childcare for all other children, Kindergarten through Grade 5, is available for a fee as space and staffing allow - see rates below.

Pre-approved families will receive a communication from the EdVenture Club Office providing next steps in the scheduling process Tuesday, October 27, 2020. Current waitlisted families will receive additional information this week as we continue to evaluate spaces and staffing to accommodate the childcare needs throughout the District.  New families interested in childcare can apply on the EdVenture Club Website.

Rates for Hybrid/Distance Childcare:

  • Before School: $9 a day
  • School Day: $13 a day ($0 for approved Tier I Critical Workers)
  • After School: $10 a day

*Tier I critical workers are defined as: healthcare & public health employees, law enforcement, public safety & first responders, food and agriculture, judicial branch essential services, Minnesota National Guard, Educators and School Staff, and child care and school-age care providers (see the Safe Learning Plan for specific definitions).


Transportation
Transportation will continue Monday through Thursday. There will be no bussing on Fridays since all students will be participating in distance learning. Drop-off and pick-up times will remain the same during the assigned hybrid days (Monday/Wednesday or Tuesday/Thursday). 


Nutrition Services (Meals available when students are not present in school)
Starting November 16, 2020, families may pick up FREE Grab-n-Go meals at any one of the following locations on days when their students are not on campus:

  • Elk River High School
    • 900 School Street, Elk River
    • Door F, located at the back of the building, off Jackson Avenue
  • Rogers High School
    • 21000 141st Avenue, Rogers
    • Door 10, located near the main entrance towards the end of the circle drive
  • Zimmerman Middle/High School
    • 25900 4th Street W, Zimmerman
    • Door 10, located at the back of the building

Meals are available for pickup from 9:00 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. daily on scheduled school days. One breakfast and lunch meal is available per student, per day. Meals are for ISD 728 currently enrolled students only. More information can be found here.


Frequently Asked Questions

If my elementary-aged child is currently enrolled in full-time distance learning, when can he return to the new hybrid model and what do I need to do to sign him up?
Every family will be given an opportunity to decide if they want their elementary-aged child to either:

  1. Move from distance learning to the new hybrid model; or
  2. Move from the current in person/hybrid model to distance learning.

Parents will receive an email October 27, 2020 and have until November 4, 2020 to make a selection. These dates have been modified on what was previously shared. Your selection will then remain in place through at least March 5, 2021. Any student that is returning from or moving to 100% Distance learning will begin his/her new assignment on November 30, 2020.

What if my child is currently homeschooled, can I sign them up for distance learning and get access to a chromebook and resources? How about if I want them to return to the hybrid model where they can be in school twice a week?
Yes, and Yes. Students who are presently enrolled in homeschool are welcome to enroll in either the distance learning model or the hybrid model. Parents should contact their district-assigned school to enroll their child. Homeschool families that have questions about either of these options can contact Joe Stangler at (763) 241-3400 x1235.

When can elementary students return to a face-to-face model?
We are planning for elementary students to return to a face-to-face model on March 8, 2021, which is the beginning of Trimester 3.

Why can’t students return to a face-to-face model sooner?

  • Public health officials have communicated that it is unlikely that the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases would be below the Minnesota Department of Health threshold for three consecutive weeks during this time period, which would be required for changing models and considered a trend.
  • Parents/Families have communicated they want as much “stability” as possible and prefer to not have changes to the instructional model on a week to week or bi-monthly basis. In other words, even though the majority of families would prefer their children to attend school every day, having a defined schedule helps them prepare and is easier on their families.
  • Staffing related adjustments need to be made based on the number of students being served in the various instructional models. It is not practical, possible, or best for students and staff to change staffing models on a week to week basis.

If the number of positive COVID-19 cases are above the threshold now, why would we wait until November 16, 2020 to change?
There are three primary reasons why ISD 728 does not plan to make a change sooner:

  1. We want our children in school and believe that having them in school “in person” is the best instructional model for them. Written differently, every day we have with our students is a good day!
  2. Students, families and staff need time to plan and prepare.
  3. Because we currently are able to manage things such as staffing, transportation, instruction, and food service despite the number of individuals quarantined and lack of substitutes (i.e. teachers, custodians, bus drivers etc.). This does become more and more difficult each and every day.

Why is ISD 728 required to make a change to the Hybrid Model when the majority of confirmed COVID-19 cases are in the community and not in our schools?
Despite the relatively low number of confirmed COVID-19 cases within ISD 728, the increasing number of cases in the community have directly impacted the schools. In fact, as much as 43% of students/staff have been quarantined in at least one of our school buildings, and all buildings have been impacted to some degree.

In addition, more than 2,700 students and staff have been quarantined (out for 14 or more days) over the last seven weeks, the majority of which had nothing to do with school. When staff are unable to be at school and no substitutes are available, things such as supervision, instruction, transportation, health-related care, and providing food service become extremely challenging, if not impossible.

In addition, any time an individual has been in close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19, he/she must be quarantined for 14 days per the Minnesota Department of Health. Close contact is defined as being within six feet for a total of 15 minutes over a 24 hour period (not consecutive).

Imagine if someone who works in an office tests positive for COVID-19. In that situation, it is likely that the entire office staff (i.e. clerks, principals, counselors, etc.) would have been in close contact and therefore, would need to be quarantined and out of school for 14 days. Or, imagine if someone in an elementary classroom tests positive. In that situation, it is likely that the entire class would need to be quarantined and out of school for 14 days. Situations like this are not unusual, are very real and extremely difficult to manage.

If the number of students/staff being quarantined is a challenge, how will moving to a Hybrid Model help keep people in school?
There are half the number of students in a classroom and/or school in a hybrid model which allows for social distancing. When individuals are able to maintain social distancing and not be in close contact with others (i.e. within six feet), they are less likely to become infected with COVID-19 and are less likely to need to quarantine.

Is it possible that elementary and/or secondary students may need to change again and be in a distance learning model?
Yes, it is possible. If you have been following local and state news recently, you have seen the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases increase throughout the nation, and school districts being forced to change models. We are hopeful that we will be able to successfully manage the spread of the virus, and that the number of cases in our communities decrease. Until then, we must continue to monitor and adjust our plans accordingly.

Will Middle and High School students remain in a Hybrid Model? If not, when will they change to distance learning?
Middle and High Schools within ISD 728 will remain in a Hybrid Model and not change to distance learning at this time. That will not change unless:

  • The number of positive COVID-19 rates were consistently above 30 per 10,000 cases.
  • ISD 728 did not have sufficient staff to maintain the current instructional model (i.e., bus drivers, teachers, etc.).
  • There was an immediate outbreak that required a change.
  • The Department of Health and/or the Department of Education required the change.

There is no definite formula or timetable when considering or making an instructional model change. However, ISD 728 will continue to communicate regularly and to give as much notice as possible if a change is needed.

How do we know the number of positive COVID-19 rates are increasing?
On Thursday, the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education released the latest county COVID case data for schools. Our local county rates continue to increase and have now surpassed the recommended threshold to keep elementary students in a face-to-face model in all of our counties.

District officials met with public health officials from all of our counties and the Minnesota Department of Health within the last week to review and confirm the data. Regardless of what data is used to make the instructional model decision (i.e., city, county, state, zip code, etc.), data indicates a change from our current face-to-face model to a hybrid model at the elementary level must be made. Public health officials also indicated the number of positive case rates would continue to increase for the foreseeable future and that community spread will force schools to implement different models.

How do we know the number of positive COVID 19 cases will continue to increase? 
The Minnesota Department of Health reporting is delayed and uses a two-week running average. Our local health departments can see the local data in real-time and prepare our schools for decisions on the horizon. We appreciate their partnership and counsel because this allows us to notify families and staff of the impending change.

What are the District’s learning model priorities?
When we started the school year, we shared that three priorities guided all of our planning for the year: 

  1. Ensuring the health and safety of students and staff
  2. Providing meaningful learning & instruction 
  3. Supporting the social-emotional needs of students and staff.

Those remain our priorities, regardless of the instructional model (i.e., face-to-face, hybrid, distance learning), and we will work diligently to continuously engage and support our students and staff.

Sincerely,
Dan Bittman
ISD 728 Superintendent