Kindergarten first day

Sweeney Elementary School Principal Derek Bell welcomes kindergarten friends Nora Heinzen and Cecilia Wetterlin into the building for the first time Sept. 10.

Shakopee’s littlest students will return to in-person learning in the coming weeks.

On Jan. 4 the Shakopee School Board approved students in grades K-2 to return to in-person learning on Jan. 25, and for grades 3-5 to return Feb. 8.

Students who are enrolled in full-time distance learning for the entire 2020-2021 school year will continue to learn online.

The elementary students enrolled in the in-person, hybrid and distance learning model will not have school Jan. 21 and 22 to give staff time to prepare.

“We want that to be the final shift in learning models for this school year for that group, if we can at all help it,” Shakopee Superintendent Mike Redmond said. “That said… there may be possibilities where a classroom would have a COVID case and a number of close contacts would need (to) quarantine.”

Redmond also warned that if things changed in the next few weeks, the district “would certainly need to weigh that as a factor” and may need to reevaluate the learning model shift.

All Shakopee schools have been operating in fully-distanced learning since Nov. 23 as virus cases in the county surged.

At the beginning of the school year, the state recommended distance learning for all age levels if there were more than 50 new COVID-19 cases per 10,000 county residents.

According to the most recent COVID-19 report for Scott County released Dec. 31, there were 63.96 new cases per 10,000 in Scott County, down from 99.8 the week of Dec. 24 and 124.64 the week of Dec. 17.

But with new guidance from the state, the recommendations don’t necessarily need to apply to elementary schools anymore. In December, Gov. Tim Walz made a series of announcements which included the ability for elementary schools to reopen for in-person instruction this month with no limits on classroom capacity.

“The cases per 10,000 are no longer considered a key component of the learning model process for elementary schools,” Redmond said at the Jan. 4 school board meeting.

Those case numbers are still considered key components for secondary schools, he said.

Redmond said in order to consider hybrid learning for secondary schools, the county’s new COVID-19 cases would need to consistently remain at or less than 30 per 10,000 residents, pointing to the state’s recommendations.

“We seem to be headed that way; we’ve got a little bit to go, but I’m optimistic,” Redmond said.

The earliest a change could be made to the secondary learning model would be Feb. 1, Redmond said.

Walz said last month that young children seem to be “less susceptible to serious complications” from COVID-19 and that the state has learned how to reduce the potential for the coronavirus to spread in schools.

Maddie DeBilzan graduated with a journalism degree from Bethel University. She’s interned at Salon Media and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Outside of work, she sifts through Goodwill clothing racks, listens to Ben Rector's music and goes on long runs.