“By beginning in the most restrictive model, we will be able to transition to hybrid and in-person learning in a controlled and safe manner,” said board chair Dan Shirley in a statement following the board’s decision. “Our shared objective is to have kids return to the classroom as soon as possible. We need them to return under circumstances where we can reasonably expect they will remain there for the long term. This is the first step in that process.”
Controversy over decision
Since the decision, the district has lost 20 students to either other districts or charter schools according to principal Megan Myers.
“If we estimate that the district receives approximately $15,000 from the state per student, totaling up those 20 students is roughly $300,000 from our budget,” Meyers said to the board at the most recent meeting.
She also pointed out that the county only had one active COVID-19 case at the time that the board made its decision.
“If we don’t go back now, then what are the numbers that will make anyone feel comfortable going back?” Myers said.
Myers isn’t alone in asking that question. Stephanie Radloff, a parent of two students in the district, also questions the school board’s decision. She organized a march of children and parents in favor of in-person learning on Tuesday, Aug. 18.
“And there were a lot of kids who showed up who want to go back to school and see their teachers again,” Radloff said. “That says something in and of itself.”
Radloff said that distance learning in the spring was difficult because she works Monday through Friday and her husband works shift work.
“It’s a lot to ask parents to juggle,” Radloff said. “Kids need to have that in-person face-to-face contact. I hoped we’d at least go for a hybrid model, but they stuck to distance learning and it’s frustrating. I feel like we weren’t heard.”
Other members of the community raised concerns with returning too quickly.
“We’re concerned with our elder population up here,” said Maria Burnett, a resident of Grand Portage who spoke at the most recent board meeting. “Many of our students live with generations of our elders. If you want to do a hybrid, the majority of our students won’t be attending school in Grand Marais. This is not a financial issue. It’s people’s lives.”
How will it work?
Every student will have an intake conference to review the students’ schedules and expectations, and to receive a device for the student to use for the year, according to a news release from the district. The intake conferences will take place between Aug. 27 and Sept. 4. Elementary students will receive tablets and middle and high school students will receive a Chromebook to complete their work. The devices will be loaned from a technology company that can make quick replacements if needed, but students should be advised that there will be charges for breaking equipment after the first incident.
According to Myers, the students will be assigned a homeroom teacher who will be their initial contact for the day. These teachers will also be the ones setting up the intake conferences with students. The first day of school remains Sept. 3, but the first few days will be spent ensuring students and parents are comfortable with the technology and the systems. The first instructional day will be Sept. 8.
The district will also provide essential care for children of tier 1 and tier 2 essential workers at the school. Myers informed the board that 30 students are currently signed up for the service. In this case, children will most likely spend the day physically distanced in the classroom of an assigned teacher in cohorts of nine students or less. More information about the program can be found by reaching out to the schools directly.
The district is also forming an Incident Command Team which will help the district make further decisions about shifting to another model of education.
Lastly, the model of education will be evaluated at the mid-quarter mark on Oct. 5. Parents and students can expect to learn by then whether distance learning will continue as it is or if it will shift to a different model.