Brainerd school admins discuss reopening options amid new guidelines

Elementary schools can now choose an in-person model without consulting with their regional support team.

Baxter Elementary School
Elementary schools in the Brainerd School District may welcome students back to in-person classes sooner than expected after Gov. Tim Walz announced updates to the state's Safe Learning Plan Wednesday, Dec. 16. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Brainerd Public Schools is working on a plan to slowly reopen facilities and return its youngest learners to the classroom after Gov. Tim Walz announced updates to the state’s Safe Learning Plan Wednesday, Dec. 16.

Beginning Jan. 18, every elementary school across the state may choose to operate an in-person learning model without consulting their regional support team as long as they are able to implement all updated health and safety measures in the Safe Learning Plan. Walz attributed the shift to research showing children face a lower risk of developing severe symptoms from the coronavirus.

Brainerd elementary students will remain in the distance learning model for now while administrators work through the details. Kids in early childhood through fourth grade moved from hybrid learning to distance learning Nov. 18.

“Since this information is very new to us, it will take us some time to work through the new guidance and to re-align existing plans while taking into account the student, staff, and family needs,” Superintendent Laine Larson wrote in a letter to families Thursday, Dec. 17. “We are meeting with our COVID-19 Coordination Team, District Administration, Incident Command Team, and staff to develop plans to keep staff and students safe when they return to in-person learning.”

The change does not affect middle and high school students, who began distance learning Nov. 5 in Brainerd. Their learning model will still be decided by consulting with state and regional health and education officials and taking into account the county’s 14-day per 10,000 case rate. Crow Wing County’s rate for Nov. 11-Dec. 5 is 111.19, down from more than 200 in early November but still above the threshold where distance learning is recommended. Regardless of learning model changes, students will still have the option for distance learning through the end of the school year.


Larson said in her letter she desires to bring those students back to the physical classroom as soon as possible.

“Thank you for your patience and community partnership throughout the past ten months and as we proceed to implement the next chapter in our learning plan,” Larson wrote to families. “Please be assured that as we glean additional information from the Minnesota Department of Education, we will continue to keep you informed. We hope this is the first step to returning our students and staff to our school buildings.”

The Safe Learning Plan update also includes a mandate for all schools providing in-person or hybrid learning to provide on-site saliva testing for all staff who interact with students beginning Jan. 4. Testing will be conducted every two weeks, and the state will provide training and test kits to all schools, including nonpublic and tribal schools that wish to implement testing.


Middle and high school students in Pierz got a chance to see their teachers and peers in person before the holiday break.

Pierz fifth through 12th graders moved to distance learning Nov. 16 but were invited back Dec. 17-22 to check in with staff, if they chose.

“Our goal is to create some experiences for teachers and other staff to touch base with students, to allow students some safe options to interact with each other, and try to meet any other social, emotional, and academic needs of students that could be supported by having them back into the school building for a couple days,” Superintendent George Weber said in a letter to families Tuesday Dec. 15. “To be clear, this is not an official Learning Model change, but instead our acknowledgement and recognition that Distance Learning is socially challenging for many students, and if we can find a way to support that routine in some safe manner we are willing to do it.”

Sixth graders were invited back Dec. 17-18 and fifth graders Dec. 20-21. Seventh through 12th grade students could come back on the days of the week assigned to them during hybrid learning in October — either Thursday and Monday or Friday and Tuesday.

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