Traditional, face-to-face instruction, distance learning, or a hybrid combination of both: One of these will be the plan for Detroit Lakes Public Schools when classes resume on Monday, Sept. 14. But a final decision on which learning method will be used at the elementary and secondary levels won't be forthcoming until a special Aug. 24 meeting of the Detroit Lakes School Board.

Though no decision was reached, much of the discussion at this Monday's regular school board meeting focused on fall learning plans in light of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

"As you know, we are exactly a month away from school," said Superintendent Mark Jenson. "We've got four weeks yet. We're not under as much pressure as neighboring districts; however, our families are eager to hear your decision and start planning.

"Here's the process. Whatever we decide, whatever model we choose is going to have to be based off of numbers, and before we even go public with it, I have to submit that (plan) to our regional support team. . . . They look at our plan, see if it works, and then say either yes or no."

The Minnesota Department of Health has mandated that each county's number of active COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents over the previous 14 days would be used to determine which of the three mandated learning models would be used by each school district at any given time. A rate of 10 or more cases per 10,000 is considered "elevated risk." according to the Department of Health, so as 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.

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Jenson noted that some districts have tried to move forward with an in-person learning model at both elementary and secondary levels, even if active COVID-19 cases for their county exceed that baseline safety level.

"The Department of Health has been very clear — no, you're not going to do that," he said. "While yes, we do have local control as to what those plans look like, the model that we choose is really going to be scrutinized."

Consequently, the school board has opted to leave the final decision on which of the three learning models would be used until as close to the start of fall classes as possible. Some discussion took place on whether it would be better to leave the final decision until Aug. 31, given that classes at Detroit Lakes would be starting one week later than most districts in the state, but School Board Chairwoman Amy Erickson noted that parents in the district would like a decision sooner rather than later.

Jenson noted that, if classes were to start based on current coronavirus patient numbers, Becker County would stand at 13.3 cases per 10,000, which means that Detroit Lakes could offer traditional, in-person learning for elementary students, while a hybrid model would need to be implemented at the secondary level.