With the start of the 2020-21 academic year at Detroit Lakes Public Schools looming ever closer, ongoing safety restrictions created by the coronavirus pandemic are making parents, students and staff quite concerned about what classes will look like this fall.

Superintendent Mark Jenson, who began his duties with the district on July 1, gave the Detroit Lakes School Board an update on plans for the start of fall classes at the board's Monday morning meeting.

"We received about 100 pages of guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education on how we needed to plan for three possible models . . . face-to-face, hybrid and distance learning," Jenson said, adding that a final decision from Gov. Tim Walz on which of those three scenarios would be enacted is expected to be forthcoming by next week — and could come even earlier.

"We're getting an inkling that it (the governor's decision) could come this week," Jenson said — and the earlier the better, he added, as the district's staff and administration will need as much time as possible to put the final plan into action.

The Minnesota departments of education and health shared their district planning guidelines in mid-June, which directed all districts in the state to plan for three possibilities:

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  1. Schools will fully reopen. There would still be some new social distancing rules in place under this option. The Detroit Lakes School District, in a June 24 Facebook post, said, “We would have floor markings in reception areas and allow more physical spaces between passengers in transportation vehicles.” In addition, the district “would restrict non-essential visitors, volunteers and activities from school buildings.”

  2. Schools will partially reopen, offering a mix of distance learning and classroom time. Under this hybrid option, the number of students in the schools and transportation vehicles would be limited, as students would be alternating their time between face-to-face learning and remote schooling from home, with different students attending school at different times.

  3. Schools will remain closed. In this case, students would do distance learning from home again, similar to what was done at the end of last school year.

Jenson stated that the district's preferred option would be the first one; with the third option, however, he noted that the state's expectations would be quite a bit higher than they were this past spring, when school districts across Minnesota had just a little over a week to convert their traditional, in-person class structure to a remote learning alternative.

"It has to be a much different experience than last spring," Jenson said. "We have had more time to prepare, and their (the state's) expectations are much higher. They want more scheduling, more rigor, more structure."

Jenson said that the district has a Fall Planning Task Force meeting weekly to address the creation of the three distinct plans; once a decision has been reached by the state, he added, the district will roll out its finalized plan by the first week in August at the latest.

"The beauty for us is we have an extra week (to plan)," he said, referring to the fact that Detroit Lakes was already planning to start fall classes a week later than other districts in the state, to maximize the time available for school construction this summer.