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District prepares for distance learning
March 27, 2020

BY GABE LICHT
Editor

DELANO, MN – Delano students will begin distance learning Monday, per Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order.

Over the past two weeks, district staff have been preparing for this new way of teaching and learning.

They have also been helping families get ready, in part, by putting Google Chromebooks into the hands of 370 families who do not have computers at home.

The other challenge is helping the 115 families who do not have internet.

“We’re working with three entities,” Superintendent Matt Schoen said during a work session with the school board Monday. “A lot of providers out there are giving 60 days of service for free. We’re not sure what that looks like . . . Every day, I have to provide the state department of education with the number of students who do not have broadbrand or equipment. They’re working on a solution to do something statewide. Teachers are going to have to have alternatives.”

Those alternatives might include picking up materials two or three times per week. There would be a strict protocol for the handling of such materials.

“If kids have to do homework or a learning activity and it’s brought to the school, due to transmission of the virus, we have to wait 24 hours and then use proper hygiene,” Schoen said.

Things could change if Walz issues a shelter-in-place order, which school officials would know about beforehand, Schoen said.

In the meantime, the district has tested out communication systems with students and parents.

School Board Member Rachel Depa said she has had communications with parents who say they do not have the ability or time to help their students with homework.

“How are we looking at grading this, especially at the elementary level, for students whose parents don’t have the time to help them?” Depa asked.

Schoen said a task force, headed by Director of Teaching and Learning Joe Vieau, is working through those issues.

“We’re tracking students on what they do, but we have to be flexible on the time they have to do it,” Schoen said.

He added that staff will be manning hotlines to help students.

Regarding spring sports, Schoen said coaches and players are not allowed to have in-person contact, but that he has instructed Activities Director Ryan Tool to encourage coaches to continue communicating with students.

All fees will be reimbursed, Schoen confirmed.

However, because the district has already entered into contracts with coaches, they will be honored even if the season does not take place.

District staff is tracking the financial implications of that policy, as well as other costs the district is incurring due to COVID-19.

“Everything else is through the general fund, and we’re still getting funding from the state,” Schoen said. “We are tracking it to see what kind of impact this will make.”

Clerk Al Briesemeister asked about staff morale.

“Social workers and other staff members have done a fantastic job of sharing good resources online,” Schoen said. “ . . . It’s been encouraging to see everyone supporting each other. Administration is checking in to see how everyone is doing. There is a constant flow of communication, which is very encouraging.”

Briesemeister also asked if the district was more prepared for distance learning because staff had already begun working on plans for flex learning to be implemented in the 2020-21 school year.

“It was a good thing, a good start,” Schoen said. “That was for the maintenance of a day. Now, we’re talking about instruction for an extended period. We quickly came to the conclusion that we have to change how we do this. They did that the first day and started to shift their vision beyond that, but we are using the same task force.”

Student board representative Bridget Sundheim expressed concern about the fate of prom, saying that she and other students just want a definitive answer.

Schoen said that, because prom is scheduled for April 18, and the Minnesota Department of Health has extended recommendations for groups no larger than 10 to meet that prom would at least need to be postponed.

Depa insisted that the district find a way to hold a commencement ceremony, even if it is postponed until August.

“It depends on where we’re at and what we’re allowed to do,” Schoen said. “We’ll explore all those options. If the department of health says you can’t gather, you can’t gather. We’ll figure it out. It’s down the road a little bit.”

Odds and ends

In other business, the board:

• approved the 2020-21 school calendar. Go to https://v3.boardbook.org/Public/PublicItemDownload.aspx?ik=46087124 for more information.

• approved a lawn-mowing contract with JENCO Property Maintenance, of Delano, at an estimated cost of $32,110.

• approved personnel matters including the resignation of Tiger Activity Center Supervisor Brenda Endersbe, hiring of head girls’ soccer coach Pat Prindle, memorandums of agreement regarding continuation for additional duty day and sick leave donations, and lane changes for nine teachers.

• approved the first of two reads of Policy 535 regarding service animals in schools. This is a new policy from the Minnesota School Board Association that will be replacing the district’s current policy.

• accepted $7,867 in donations from nine different entities.

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