ISD 728 Explains: How Did We Get to a Point Where Students Can Come Back?
ISD 728 leadership announced to staff and families that students from all grades will be back in buildings around our District community by March, with phased in dates of February 1 (Grades 3-5), February 16 (Grades 6-8, 9, 11 and 12) and March 1 (Grade 10).
We understand that this transition back to in-person learning for the majority of our families can still lead to questions and we will continue to respond and communicate information regularly. This communication hopes to address the common queries that were sent in to District staff following the January 27 announcement.
Why is it safe to return to school now?
This is a short question that requires a complex response. There are a number of factors.
- The spread of the illness has declined, significantly, from its peak. In mid-November, two of our five counties - Wright and Sherburne - reported case rates of more than 170 illnesses per 10,000 residents. As we near the end of January, that rate has dropped to below 40 cases per 10,000. Yes, variants of the virus are being reported, but widespread transmission of the virus has slowed, which is great news for students.
- Students weren’t generally transmitting the virus at school. The Minnesota Departments of Health and Education agree that, even at the virus’ peak late last year, classroom spread wasn’t the issue. Families - and adults - in the community at various functions, parties and gatherings were the cause of the majority of the spread.
- The timing is right. For students, it’s an opportunity to get into schools where they know - and we know - they are getting the help they need, and social interactions they crave. Spring will arrive (we promise) in March/April, and classes will again be able to utilize outdoor space during classes or transitions. And there are now two vaccines being distributed widely, with District staff being a priority for inoculation thanks to state programs.
- Mitigation efforts are being increased and improved. Screens, shields, saliva testing, and cleaning protocols have been implemented and continued at our schools, making students and staff even safer than they were at the beginning of the school year.
- Additional vaccinations are being distributed to education professionals and those most vulnerable, thanks to efforts by MDE and MDH.
What about 10th grade? Why do they have to wait?
MDE and MDH determined a safe “ramp up” to getting kids back into buildings would be three grades at one time per building. Thus, we knew that three grades at our elementary schools and one grade at our high schools would be the “odd person” out. For elementary, that meant 3-5 would start after K-2. Unfortunately, at the high schools, that meant one class - in our case 10th Grade - would be left out and have to wait 9 additional school days to get back into classrooms.
Sophomore year is a rigorous time for any student. However, 10th graders were selected based on factors such as student achievement, credits needed for graduation, the number of students in each grade, and time spent in or remaining in school. This was agreed upon with help from our high school leadership teams and District leaders.
Will Distance Learning still be an option for those who don’t want to come back?
Yes. All who want a Distance Learning program for the remainder of the year will be permitted to stay in that learning model. The instruction they receive daily WILL change, and so might their online teacher. But we will continue to offer rigorous instruction to those who, for any reason, wish to continue to learn online, as well as technology tools, information, etc.
How is Food Service changing?
Our Food Services team will continue to operate much as it has since students started coming back in January.
The District will continue to serve a free breakfast and lunch meal to all students each day. Students who are attending on campus will visit our cafeterias for these meals. Students who are learning off-campus can pick-up their meals as part of our Grab-N-Go program, particularly those in 100% Distance learning and those 10th graders that will not come back until March.
Second, meals will continue to be free of charge thanks to the Federal COVID relief programs. So we encourage families to take advantage of school lunches throughout the rest of the 20-21 school year.
When will we hear about transportation changes?
Communication will continue to come to all families who utilize busing via our traditional systems (texts, emails, calls) throughout February.
What about proms and graduations?
While we’re looking forward to celebrating the Class of 2021, we have no idea what that will look like right now. We realize the end of the year is quickly approaching for those families, and will continue to work with the state to explore the possibilities. Nobody knows what the pandemic has in store for Minnesotans or the District, so it is hard to predict what will happen.