The area's private schools, for grades pre-K to 8, are preparing to open with in-person learning.
Private high schools like Holy Family Catholic in Victoria and Southwest Christian in Chaska have already announced full reopenings. Private schools for younger students, including St. Hubert Catholic, Guardian Angels Catholic and St. John’s Lutheran, are following similar plans.
The state’s guidelines, which are based on the percentage of COVID-19 cases per county, allows each public school district to decide the majority of its reopening plans. In Eastern Carver County, kindergarten through eighth-grade students will use a combination of distance and in-person learning, while high school will be completely remote.
The newly announced in-person plans correlate with a spike in enrollment at all three private schools. Guardian Angels, the smallest of the three with a typical student population of 60, saw a 30% increase in enrollment, according to Principal Chuck Briscoe.
“I think families believe it’s going to be better for students to be in school with a teacher. Relationships are just as important as reading, writing, arithmetic ... if you have to distance learn, you have to do it, but I’ll never be convinced it’s as good,” Briscoe said.
St. John’s reopening plans were announced before the district’s decision, which sparked interest from many new families — as of Aug. 21, its enrollment is already higher than it was last fall, according to Principal Kendra Gilmore.
The switch to in-person is a welcome change from the mandatory distance learning instituted by Gov. Tim Walz in the spring, said St. Hubert Principal David Sorkin. The school has retained 98% of its students from last year and saw an additional increase in new families.
“There’s a lot of excitement from parents and kids now that they can be back with their classmates and friends. We’re not going to be foolish and think there’s no risk, but we are weaving a web of strategies together to mitigate that risk,” Sorkin said.
At around 60 students per grade, St. Hubert Catholic School in Chanhassen is one of the largest private grade schools in the area, but can still adhere to safety measures while maintaining in-person relationships, Principal Sorkin said.
“Our decision was founded on our belief of the value and importance of community and in-person learning. We’re still able to meet the recommendations and guidance from public health authorities and other health organizations,” Sorkin said.
The school is using a phased approach for their reopening on September 8 and is currently at Phase Three — in-person with online learning as needed. Those who require distance learning will use Google Classroom or Seesaw, depending on their grade level.
Physical classrooms will be reduced to 50% capacity, and all K-8 students will be required to wear masks or face shields. There won’t be any athletic teams this semester, but additional Masses have been added so all students can attend throughout the week.
Like St. John’s and Guardian Angels, families are expected to monitor students for symptoms and the school will do daily temperature checks.
Public or private, every school is dealing with the same concerns, but each school can decide how they want to handle them, Sorkin said.
“You can either put your head in the ground and cry about it, or you can figure out a way to address the situation to the best of your ability. Our community has never been one to shy away from challenges,” Sorkin said. “We’re pulling up our proverbial bootstraps and figuring out a way to move forward.”
St. John’s Lutheran School in Chaska serves preschool through eighth grade and is capping each grade at 18 students to ensure social distancing. K-8 will started Sept. 1, while preschool and pre-kindergarten will begin Sept. 8.
“It wasn’t a hard decision for us (to reopen) because we knew we would be able to do it safely. With our class sizes … we’re really in the sweet spot and can keep everyone six feet apart,” Gilmore said.
The school is currently in Phase One of a three phase plan. Right now, social distancing will be utilized when possible, transition times between classes will be staggered and cleaning will be more frequent, among other small changes. Masks will be required.
Parents and guardians must sign a commitment letter that requires them to screen their children daily and contact the school in case of exposure or symptoms. Absence policies must still be followed, though there may be some options for distance learning.
“Keeping that consistency is a huge factor for us. I wanted them to be able to be a part of our community, our family, and stay with those teachers they know and they love,” Gilmore said.
As both a principal and a parent of children attending St. John’s, Gilmore said she’s excited to be back in the school building.
“I’m looking forward to seeing everyone again ... there’s been a lot of support from parents and staff. This is a team effort,” Gilmore added.
Briscoe has spent decades in education, but July was his first month as principal of Guardian Angels Catholic School in Chaska. Unlike many of his previous schools, Guardian Angels is small enough to allow for a full reopening on Sept. 8 — the average class size is 10 children.
“I pride myself on learning everyone’s names,” he said. “Now, I can spend every day in the lunchroom and practice.”
It may be easier to socially distance, but the school is still taking precautions. Families have been asked to do health checks before sending their children to school, and staff will repeat them at the door. Lunch, outdoor activities and other programs will be staggered to limit unnecessary interaction. Drop off and pick up times are also modified.
Guardian Angels Catholic School students and staff, kindergarten through eighth grade, will wear face coverings throughout the day.
Some staff were cautious about returning, Briscoe noted, but they’re trusting the school’s extra safety measures. More modifications can always be made, he said.
Back to school night has been cancelled, but there’s one thing Briscoe is keeping — “Red carpet day,” when the school will celebrate their first day back. They’ll have a band, cookies and spread-out socialization.
“You’ve got to spice it up and have fun the first day. I want kids to be so excited that they can’t wait to get back for day two,” he said.
Editor's note: This story was updated to include a correction. Guardian Angels Catholic School students and staff, kindergarten through eighth grade, will wear face coverings throughout the day.