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Minnesota Provides Guidance For School Re-Opening

   Governor Tim Walz released Minnesota’s Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year.  It uses a localized, data-driven approach that allows school districts to operate in a learning model that is responsive to the prevalence of COVID-19 cases in their community.

   Based on current numbers in St. Louis County, and State thresholds, the Duluth School District could consider some form of in-person learning for the start of school.  John Magas, Duluth Superintendent, said “We must assess our local circumstances and have further conversations with stakeholders based on this new information. Even if the district moves forward with in-person or hybrid learning families could choose distance learning for their child.”

   “We appreciate the help and support of the state in addressing education during the pandemic,” said Magas. “We are incorporating this new information into our plan for the school year.” 

   The state has asked school districts to prepare plans around three models in the event they’re necessary during the school year.  The three models include In-Person, Distance Learning and Hybrid. 

   “We have developed plans for three models as we may need them throughout the year,” said Magas. “Our guiding principles are the health and safety of students, families and staff and a focus on engaging and high quality instruction.”

   Magas said Duluth Schools have detailed procedures in the plan related to health and safety protocols, cleaning, and responding to a case of coronavirus should one be reported at school.  They include social distancing, symptom screening, hygiene protocols and cleaning and sanitizing facilities, among many.  

   “Distance learning will be significantly improved from the emergency model used last spring, based on the lessons we’ve learned. We’re enhancing distance learning by making more devices available for students, increasing internet accessibility, improving learning platforms for students and providing more teacher-led virtual instruction,” said Magas.

   More information about the Duluth Public Schools Return to Learn Plan will be shared with the public and Duluth School Board on Tuesday August 4. Magas says the plan will be continually updated with new information as planning continues. It will be available at www.ISD709.org/ReturnToLearn.

   Plans are being created with guidance from the MN Department of Health and MN Department of Education. Magas said family surveys conducted in May and July of 2020, along with staff surveys conducted by the district and by the Duluth Federation of teachers are helping guide the process.  “The information helps those working on the plan to better understand questions, concerns and thoughts about starting school this fall,” said Magas.  Survey data will be shared August 4.

   Implementing the plan will require all ISD 709 families to register for the new school year, and that process is expected to begin the week of August 10.  

   “We know there are families who will not want to send their child to school for in-person or hybrid learning during the pandemic,” said Magas.  “We’ll provide distance learning for families who make that choice.” 

   Magas says next steps involve continuing to work out details and sharing information with the Board and community on August 4. Local Return to Learn information will be posted at www.ISD709.org/ReturnToLearn.  Families and staff are encouraged to review and provide feedback by emailing ReturnToLearn@ISD709.org.  

Next Steps:
August 4: Return to Learn Plan Update for Board, Community
August 10 - 21:  Student registration
Wk of August 24:  Share student & family-specific information
September 8 - 11:  All Student Return to Learn Week
 

In-Person Learning

   All students can attend school in-person.  Schools and school buses create as much space between people as practical and take steps to ensure health and safety. They follow good hygiene practices like frequent hand washing, symptom checks and frequent cleaning and sanitizing of spaces. 

   Students remain in their classrooms, rather than changing groups and classes, with art & music brought in.  Families who do not wish to send their child to in-person learning can choose distance learning.

Distance Learning 2.0 

   Distance learning means students study from home.  In Duluth, planning involves moving beyond the emergency distance learning provided in the spring. 

   “The goal is to create a system that provides high quality, engaging learning, tailored to individual student needs,” said Magas.  “Interacting with teachers and classmates is important, especially at the elementary level.”

   Magas said investments are being made to have more devices available for students who need them.  The district is also working to provide internet accessibility through hotspots to families that currently do not have reliable internet service.  Magas said there will be an improved learning platform for students and more live, teacher-led virtual instruction.

   Students and teachers will use a platform called Seesaw at the elementary level and a platform called Canvas at the middle and high school level. Families will be provided with an orientation to the platforms and other information to help support student learning at home. Professional development for teachers is being provided prior to and as the school year begins.

Hybrid Learning

   To provide more room in school buildings for social distancing, students are divided into groups and attend school in-person part time. Schools are effectively open for one-half of the student population each day. This approach allows schools to implement social distancing practices and support cleaning and sanitizing

   “Research shows that elementary-grade students struggle more with distance learning than high school students,” said Magas.  “Offering more face-to-face instruction to elementary students may help young children and support educational opportunity and growth across all grades.”  

   Magas said the number of days of in-person learning are related in part to the ability to transport students to school.  Social distancing requires fewer students to be on a school bus.  It’s also related to classroom capacity as social distancing means fewer students in a classroom.

   More information will be posted at www.ISD709.org/ReturnToLearn.  For questions, email ReturnToLearn@ISD709.org.