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Scott County school districts prepare for fall, whatever form it takes

How will school work in the fall as the pandemic continues? The answer should come in a few weeks, but it could also shift during the school year depending on a particular district or school's circumstances, state and local officials said this month. 

Scott County school districts have begun compiling plans for three scenarios or tiers laid out by the state departments of health and education last week.

In the first tier, students would return to schools for something like an ordinary school year, though large gatherings and physical proximity would be somewhat limited. The third tier would bring the same distance learning from this spring. And the second tier in between would be a mix, with schools and buses at half capacity. 

State officials have said they plan to announce how the school year will start by the last week of July. Jordan Public Schools' Director of Teaching and Learning Erin Hjelmeland and other districts' leaders this week said they didn't yet have many details for families but would share more after the announcement. 

“We’re looking at logistics and operations and trying to see what will work,” said Shakopee Superintendent Mike Redmond. Part of the challenge will be the many different settings within schools that each need their own approach, he added.

“There are different expectations depending on if you’re a physical education teacher, a music teacher or a second grade classroom teacher."

Regardless of where the year starts out, districts or counties might move up or down the three tiers if a local coronavirus outbreak flares or subsides, according to the state departments. And districts will have the option to use stricter policies on their own. 

"We’ve already got some practice with that," Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools Superintendent Teri Staloch said. The district has been learning from summer school and sports and from surveys of its staff members and families to fine-tune its pandemic responses, such as with group-size limits, she said. 

"There’s definitely going to be challenges and opportunities." 

In the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District, next school year's approach will have to mesh with plans to close three schools to account for falling enrollment. 

Stephanie White, the district's director of special education, said Sioux Trail Elementary School's building might play a role the COVID-19 response, such as by hosting child care services if the district moves to distance learning or the hybrid plan. 

"How can we maximize that resource and make sure we remain flexible and responsive?" White asked during the June 18 Board of Education meeting.

The state's numbers of daily positive tests and deaths related to COVID-19 have fallen over the past month or so, according to the Department of Health, and the state could allow in-person schooling if the situation stays stable or improves. 

Both scenarios for some in-person schooling share several requirements and voluntary recommendations: 

Requirements

  • Maintain social distance in congregation areas, such as in lines, and in classrooms and vehicles as much as possible. 
  • Restrict non-essential visitors and activities. 
  • Directly serve or individually package meals and snacks. 
  • Create a process for identifying and accommodating high-risk students and staff members.  
  • Provide hand soap and sanitizer. 
  • Require staff and students to stay home when sick or after they've been in contact with someone who tests positive for the coronavirus.

Voluntary recommendations

  • Work to keep students and staff in particular groups that stay together and don't mix throughout the day.
  • Stagger arrival and dismissal times to avoid crowding. 
  • When possible, hold music and physical education classes outside and with students spread apart. 
  • Wear face masks or other coverings.