School district eyes options for opening school

Mike Milbrandt

The COVID-19 pandemic has been disrupting the lives of people across the globe since it was first identified in China last October, and it continues to disrupt. With the beginning of the school year fast approaching, school districts across the country are looking at ways to safely provide an education to their students.

The Montevideo School District is no exception. Dr. Luther Heller, Superintendent of Schools, and the Board of Education have been looking at some options, although at this time, there is no telling what the next month holds as far as the pandemic is concerned.

“The Department of Education has put out some basic standards for three basic options,” said Dr. Heller. “The three options are: everyone returning to school with social distancing; a hybrid model with some students in school and some utilizing distance learning on an alternating basis and utilizing social distancing; and distance learning.

“We have been told to develop an operational plan around each of those possibilities and prepare for the possibility that we could be using each of those plans during the course of the year.”

So far, nothing has been decided for certain. “We received the basic guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health about a week and a half ago, and we are now in the process of developing our implementation of strategies for each,” said Dr. Heller.

According to Dr. Heller, during the week of July 27, the MDE will be notifying school districts throughout the state as to which option will be in place for the beginning of the school year.

Both the MDE and MDH have been very helpful in providing guidance to school districts in the state. Dr. Heller said: “We have received planning guides as we develop plans for the start of the school year. In addition, the Commissioner of Education has a weekly call with all of Minnesota’s school superintendents. In these calls, we are able to submit specific questions. I feel like we are getting some good direction from the department.”

Dr. Heller mentioned that the state is monitoring how COVID-19 is tracking in the state, and that, based upon the information it gathers, they will be providing further direction.

During normal times, each school district in the state has some latitude when deciding when to start their school year, but these are most certainly not normal times. “It is my understanding that the initial decision will be made by the state,” said Dr. Heller. “Also, I believe that the decision may be the same for everyone or it may be based upon the specific circumstances within a particular region or community. The state will rely on input from MDH and the CDC.”

The Montevideo School District is certainly not going it alone as far as things are going. “I have weekly conference calls with various groups within our region and across the state. We exchange ideas as we work through the planning process,” said Dr. Heller.

According to Dr. Heller, there have been no decisions made as to fall sports. He said: “We are awaiting guidance from the Minnesota State High School League and the state on that. Planning is being done with the start of fall sports in mind, but that may or may night end up being what takes place.”

None of this is easy for the state’s school districts. “Perhaps the biggest challenge is trying to plan without knowing how the pandemic is going to be progressing. It is a time of uncertainty and we must prepare to provide the students with the best possible educational opportunities under the conditions that are present at any given point in time,” said Dr. Heller.

A year ago, the thought of planning for different options for the opening of a school year was unthinkable, but that is where the district is at today. “While it is difficult to have to develop multiple options,” said Dr. Heller, “it allows us to prepare for several contingencies and it should allow us some flexibility as we move through these uncertain times. Also, if we know by the end of July how we will open school, it does give us a month to fine tune things