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VIDEO: ISD 728 Superintendent Update: August 2020

Watch ISD 728 Superintendent Dan Bittman give an update on the 2020-2021 school year, wearing face coverings, sports and childcare.

Video Transcript: 

Greetings ISD 728 families, this is Dr. Dan Bittman. I’m grateful to be here and continue to communicate and to partner with you as we navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Today I want to  provide you all with some updated information regarding questions that we've been getting from numerous families which have all been great.  We feel the need to continue to do that throughout these weeks and as we get more information.

Learning Models

The first question I received is why is it that we have to use certain data from the county to make decisions. That's a really good question. The Governor and the Department of Health as well the education commissioner said we are to use the data from the county with the most cases of COVID-19 to make a decision (in our return to learning). In that situation we have a small number of folks - about 2,000 in our district of nearly 14,000 that come from Hennepin County. With that being said (Hennepin as our guidance) we would be required to have a hybrid learning for all students early childhood through grade 12. Or, we would also  have the option of doing virtual for everyone should the district decide to do that. We do NOT want to do that. We have heard loud and clear from families that have said they would like our kids to be able to be in school, to the best of our ability. 

We have asked for permission from the Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education to use different data. For example, ZIP code data in the Hennepin County area, which would allow us, if we are given permission, to have a different model. 

We also expressed concerns and asked for permission to not use information in Sherburne County regarding the current prison, recognizing that cases are higher at the prison. The bottom line is that school districts are required to use the county data, and we have asked for that permission to look at specific data as it pertains to our district. And we are looking forward to and hopeful for approval to do so. If we do get the waiver to do this we will then be able to do something different to start the year. 

Additionally, I want to talk about what that might look like in the Fall if we are able to use different data. Once we have that approval (to use specific data) - unless something significant changes - it would mean the ISD 728 elementary students and early childhood students would be able to come face to face to start the school year. Again we have asked for permission to do that and are waiting to see if we are allowed to use different data.

Our secondary students - those in middle school and high school - would be a hybrid model. And the hybrid model is something we are obviously refining, and information will come out the week of August 17. 

Our parents should know the hybrid model would look like the hybrid model in other districts throughout the state. Essentially a hybrid model would mean that students would be on site in school two or three days a week and then they’d be learning virtually for the days that they were not in school. Students would be assigned to which days they would be in the building, and  we would prioritize having children from families on the same day if and when possible. we would not be able to accommodate special requests to be with neighbors, friends and extended family etc., because we have 14,000 students. But, we would prioritize family members to be on the same schedule. 

If we are in Distance Learning - we talked about the distance-learning would be different than it was in the spring. There would not be the flexibility, per se, in the way that there was in the spring. There would be regular interaction throughout the day with staff for families.

Masks/Face Coverings

We have gotten a number of emails and communications about masks. I know that there are strong feelings (about this). Many of you have emailed me that your children should not have to wear masks. And many of you have emailed me saying “How can we not have students wear masks?” I just want to comment that there is a mandate from the Governor. School districts are not given choices. Nor would they take a stand in that type of manner. The Governor has indicated that masks must be worn unless there is an exception.

 There are three exceptions to not wear a mask that are allowed by state law:

  1. If there is a medical reason to do so and that would require medical documentation in collaboration with district staff.
  2. The second would be that there was a developmental reason in the needs of the child and again the parent would need to work with the school district to determine if that was a legitimate reason that is behavioral.
  3. Third is if there are specific special needs for a child that would make wearing a mask extremely difficult, and that might be a reason for an exception.

We will continue to work with and for families. School districts do not get a choice. And we are stating that we recognize that wearing a mask does reduce the chances of infection, so we would ask that families for your safety and the safety of others please wear a face covering as outlined in the statute.

Fall Sports

We have also received a lot of communications about high school and middle school sports. The Minnesota State High School League communicated some decisions in regards to sports. We now know that soccer for boys and girls, as well as cross country for boys and girls, girls tennis and girls swim and dive will occur this fall, but will have some modifications in terms of schedule times and regulations.

We also know that the high school league moved volleyball and football to a so-called third season that will take place between March and May. 

We know that there will be a number of things that you have questions about, and things that we also have questions about. We continue to wait for further guidance from the department of health as well as the high school league about things such as fans - how many individuals can be at an event? How many teams can participate? So know that as we get more direction and information we will provide it. 

We are excited that our students will have the opportunity to participate in sports, and we look forward to being engaged in this way.

Childcare/EdVenture Club

And finally the next most common question relates to childcare. We are still refining the details related to our child care based on such things as available space, family need, and safely being able to follow the department of health requirements.

At a minimum school-age care must be provided by the district or school and will be for school age children between the ages of 12 and under. 

Children of critical Tier 1 workers will be cared for at no cost to them during typical school hours. Our hope is to be able to provide additional opportunities during the day including before and after school, which may result in families being able to do this via a fee.

Again some of that will depend on things such as finding space.

Tier 1 workers included in the state’s order who we will be providing childcare – no matter what during the school day free of charge – include healthcare and public health officials, law-enforcement, public safety and first responders, food and agriculture, members of the judicial branch, members the national guard activated under the Governor's executive order, educators in school staff providing in-person instruction for caring for children of critical workers.

More information will be on our website, which is where you will find a number of great updates. We have provided information, answers to frequently asked questions, and old communications remain there. There are also opportunities for you to submit questions, and we will always get back to you in a timely manner.

We are grateful for the partnership, and continue to provide information that is needed and required for you to make a decision - similar to the decisions around the parent survey. (A reminder that) all parents will have the opportunity to complete a survey related to distance learning and whether they choose that model or not. 

We will relay the details of all the instructional models the week of August 17.

Again thank you for being part of ISD 728. Thank you for working with us. And thank you for helping us navigate a return to learning during this international pandemic