Students in the Prior Lake-Savage Area School District have been completing their schoolwork through a combination of in-person and at home learning through the district’s current hybrid learning model. Roughly 22% of students opted to complete the first quarter of school completely online via the district’s Distance Learning Academy.
With the second quarter of the school year approaching on Nov. 16, the PLSAS board discussed what indicators would lead to a learning model change and how they are processing families requests to switch their preferred learning model at its Oct. 12 meeting.
District officials meet with Scott County Public Health and other public health officials in the metro area weekly to discuss trends and COVID case numbers within the county.
The week ending Sept. 26 Scott County had 24.83 cases per 10,000 over 24 days, said District COVID-19 Coordinator Joe Kubouskek.
“Now that was an important date because that signified two full weeks of our students being in school, so that was the first full incubation period of COVID that our students had been in the building,” Kubouskek said.
County health officials told administration the cases have resulted from continuous county spread versus one large outbreak.
“At that time, Scott County has the highest case rate of any county in the entire seven county metro area,” he added.
On Oct. 2, the Minnesota Department of Public Health began releasing weekly data on schools and the number of positive cases across the state. Schools with five or more positive cases in the building while infectious during a two-week reporting period are named on the list.
“Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools currently does not have any schools on that list,” Kubouskek said.
Cumulatively there have been 10 positive COVID-19 cases between students and staff in the district, he said.
During the meeting it was noted that the current recommendation from Scott County Public Health and the PLSAS Incident Command Team is to remain in the hybrid learning model for all grades based on school and county case numbers.
Though the district will continue with hybrid learning, many students have requested to switch their preferred learning method for the remainder of the year.
“Preliminarily the number of students in DLA wanting to come back into the dial is 503 students,” Assistant Superintendent Jeff Holmberg said. “We have 91 students district wide that want to go from the dial out to DLA, so the net into the dial is 412 students across the district and distributed relatively evenly between elementary, middle school and high school, but there are some differences there.”
Staff is working to facilitate the requests and will confirm placements with parents on Nov. 6. To accommodate the students coming into the dial, staff is looking into building capacities and identifying additional classroom space; how the switch will impact childcare; checking transportation capacities as transportation must be provided to students who live within the district; and the number of students in the A and B hybrid learning groups as group B currently has more students due to enrollment fluctuation.
“It’s about doing what we can to keep kids in the building, keep them learning. It's been a tremendous effort. I don’t think it's going to get any easier but also too I do want to acknowledge that our ability to mitigate any spread or mitigate a lot of those things that maybe other schools or communities are having we're going to do our best to do what we can to follow that guidance and make sure that we are committed to learning and continue to learn and continue to try and balance what are community is asking of us — having more days in school,” Holmberg said.
The board also addressed the possibility of designating flex days for group A or B as input gathered from parents indicated they wanted this change.
Currently students attend school Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday in-person with the opposite days attended online. On Wednesday flex days, most students work from home, but can come into schools to work in small groups or get extra help.
Staff said they were also in favor of the change, but wanted more time to implement the lesson plans they had already planned for flex days. The current model will continue and staff will monitor the flex days and discuss a possible change in the future, Superintendent Teri Staloch said.
After being updated on the latest data and hearing feedback from the staff and the board, Board Director Melissa Enger attempted to make a motion.
“Our greatest need is to come together to encourage our board to get at least the K-5 kids back to school five days a week,” she said. “We don’t have the cases. Scott County and the Minnesota Department of Health are guidance and to correct some things said earlier they are not the end all be all, we do have local control and our number one job is to educate these kids and we need to do that. That happens when students are in seats, live-learning so I'm going to make the motion, and I encourage my fellow board members to support this, to direct Superintendent Staloch to work through the necessary meetings with the department of health for full time K-5 learning to begin on Oct. 26, 2020.”
Because the motion was made during the discussion of the Ready to Learn Plan, Enger’s motion was considered a point of order and could not be voted on.
Staloch concluded the discussion by stating how complex the situation is referencing the comments and challenges brought up by administration.
“This isn't easy, nobody likes it," Board Chair Lee Shimek said. "We all just want it to go away. If I could wave a wand, I’d be the first one to do it, pretty much hate it. But we have to always keep it in perspective that we’re working together and we will get through it and we're not enemies of each other we just need to get on the same page and work through it and we will."