In person classes, distance learning, or a hybrid of the two ... this is the decision facing the Detroit Lakes School Board regarding which learning model they will use for fall classes.

As explained by Superintendent Mark Jenson at a Thursday afternoon board work session, however, the final plan will need to include contingencies for all three scenarios, as learning methods for both elementary and secondary students could change from week to week based on Becker County's 14-day coronavirus case rate.

Instructions on how to proceed with fall classes were laid out for all Minnesota school districts on July 30, when Gov. Tim Walz announced Minnesota's Safe Learning Plan for 2020-21, which prioritizes safety from infection and spreading of the virus while offering as much in-person learning as possible, especially for younger students.

Under the new plan, each county's number of active COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents over the previous 14 days would be used to determine the learning model used by each school district at any given time.

"There are three models, and five possible scenarios," Jenson said.

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The Minnesota Department of Health says a rate of 10 or more cases per 10,000 is considered "elevated risk"; so long as a district's home county stays under the 0-9 cases per 10,000, they can offer in-person learning for all grade levels, Jenson said.

If the county's case rate rises to the 10-19 per 10,000 level, the learning model would switch to in-person learning for elementary students, and a hybrid (combination of in-person and distance learning) model at the secondary level.

At a 20-29 per 10,000 level, the model would shift to hybrid learning for all students, and if it rose to between 30-49 cases per 10,000, hybrid learning would be offered at the elementary level, with secondary students shifting entirely over to distance learning.

At the 50-plus cases per 10,000 level, the district would need to shift entirely into distance learning mode; however, Jenson noted, "What distance learning looked like last May is not what distance learning is going to be in September."

Detroit Lakes Superintendent Mark Jenson
Detroit Lakes Superintendent Mark Jenson

With months more planning time behind it, the state is requiring that each district's distance learning plan be much more rigorous, and stick to a stricter time schedule, he added. In addition, students will be issued letter grades for their assigned work rather than being graded on a pass/fail basis.

Parents, teachers and faculty alike will need to be prepared for a fluid learning plan, Jenson said, as the state will be monitoring the each district continuously, based on the county's most current 14-day case number.

The school board will begin firming up the district's learning plans at its next regular meeting, set for 7 a.m. Aug. 17. However, Jenson added, those plans won't be truly final until two weeks before the start of classes.

"Theoretically, we could shift to any one of these three models at any time over the course of the year," Jenson said. "This is the most frustrating thing for families, I recognize that. This is a hardship; it’s going to be difficult."

Once the plan is finalized, it will be made available on the school district's website, where a copy of the state's complete 2020-21 Safe Learning Plan can also be downloaded.