Schools in the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District will open to students for hybrid learning this fall, but a significant number of local families are already choosing to learn virtually full-time.
District administrators presented the recommended learning plan to the Board of Education on Thursday.
The Board didn't hold a formal vote on the plans, and administrators are set to provide another update to district officials during the Aug. 27 meeting.
"As we move forward, our plan will be based on the safety of our staff and students," Superintendent Theresa Battle said. "Our goal will be to provide choice, flexibility and consistency for our families."
District administrators say the hybrid model they've designed accommodates stringent health and safety protocols, connects in-person and online learning experiences and prioritizes the developmental needs of early learners.
On Thursday, the last 14 days of data showed 21.4 COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents in Dakota County and 25 cases per 10,000 residents in Scott County. Both numbers have increased since last week.
The state's guidance for choosing a learning model based on cases per 10,000 resident within the county is as follows:
"Things are not ideal, and it is not a normal time," Battle said. "We must be flexible and make compromises and work together to solve problems."
Under the hybrid model, Wednesday would be a distance learning day for all students:
Imina Oftedahl, the district's director of curriculum, instruction and assessment, said teachers will work in collaborative teams to ensure smooth transitions between in-person and online learning.
Some teachers will be assigned to in-person learning and some will be assigned to distance learning, she explained. They'll work together to make sure learning experiences are comprehensive and connected for each student.
Assistant Superintendent Brian Gersich said a staggered return to school is being designed to help students and staff transition into the new learning model.
Some students will return to school buildings on Sept. 14, while the rest of students participate in distance learning. The hybrid model will be up and running for all grades by Sept. 28, according to the proposed school calendar.
"One91 Virtual Academy" will be offered to students who choose full-time distance learning.
Virtual learning students will have a dedicated teacher, and these staff members won't bounce between virtual and classroom learning assignments.
Before Thursday's meeting, roughly 1,500 students were registered for the virtual academy, according to the district.
The registration deadline is Aug. 16, and district officials say they're expecting a wave of new registrations to follow Thursday's hybrid learning announcement.
Bernie Bien, the district's lead licensed school nurse, said each school's health office will play a critical role in deciding next steps when a student or staff member becomes sick at school.
If a student presents COVID-19 symptoms, they will be placed in an isolation area before taken home.
This fall, school nurses will also handle contact tracing if there's been an in-school exposure to COVID-19.
The state traces an infected person's contacts outside of school, Bien explained, and school nurses handle the contact tracing of someone's in-school contacts.
All school nurses will be trained in contact tracing through a John Hopkins University program. This summer, Bien conducted contract tracing for summer programming participants and district staff members.
To try and prevent symptomatic children from entering school buildings, the district will ask families to complete a daily, at-home symptom screening each day before leaving for school.
The social distancing and masks required inside each building provides another line of defense against the virus.
Oftedahl explained how a typical school day might look for a second-grade student.
Once the bus, the student — wearing a mask at all times — will sit in an assigned seat. Once off the bus, they'll be directed to a specific location to enter the building and be further directed to wash their hands before heading to class.
Inside the classroom, they'll have an assigned workspace spaced at least six feet from other students. Students will have a dedicated teacher and be kept together in groups of 12-18 depending on the size of the classroom.
Meals will likely be served to students in their workspace, Oftedahl said.
If the pandemic worsens locally, the state allows five days for districts to shift between learning models. Districts decide how those five days are used; distance learning could be implemented immediately, or there could be some in-school preparation for the change.
As fall approaches, Battle said it's important for families to have back-up plans for childcare and patience.
"Remember, we must be kind to each other," she said. "The virus is the enemy — we are not each other's enemy."