Brainerd School District to resume in-person learning for youngest students

Superintendent Laine Larson said the state is moving forward with the plan after studies indicate children younger than 10 don't spread the coronavirus as readily as older people.

Harrison Elementary School on Oak Street in Brainerd Thursday, Dec. 24. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch

Following new directives from the Minnesota departments of Education and Health, the Brainerd School District will open its facilities to full in-person learning for its early childhood students through second grade starting Jan. 19.

In a letter released to the public Wednesday, Dec. 23, Superintendent Laine Larson stated the district is beginning the process to open schools for its younger learners. Learners in early childhood education through second grade will continue to practice distance learning until Jan. 19, while older students in third grade through 12th grade will continue to practice distance learning until further notice. The district has been in a distance learning model since mid-November to stop the spread of COVID-19 among the student body, staffers and faculty.


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“That's tentatively our plan right now, but every day there are changes that are coming forward regarding plans from the (Minnesota Department of Education), regarding mitigation strategies, answering questions that people have around the state,” Larson said during a phone interview Wednesday. “I wanted to send it out to families today, so that they could at least start planning.”
Larson said the adjustment was justified by state health department officials as a means to alleviate pressure on families with smaller children, while also providing young learners with professional care, education experiences and socialization that’s vital for early childhood development. The district will continue to implement stringent COVID-19 protocols like mask usage, social distancing, Plexiglas barriers and the like, Larson added, but there’s an added flexibility that children younger than 10 appear to not transmit the virus as readily as older people.

So long as school districts carefully follow mitigation measures and limit participation to the youngest grades, Larson said, the district can educate these students in a way that promotes long term health, mental wellness and academic proficiency without the isolation of COVID-19 quarantine that sometimes comes with distance learning.


The new directive comes amid widespread concerns over declining academic performance and student well-being. Earlier this year, state Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, called for an academic status report to be compiled regarding the progress of Minnesota students across the state, while some individual Minnesota school districts — mostly in the Twin Cities metro — have commissioned audits that indicate students are struggling mightily to meet state standards.

The concern that students are falling behind in 2020, whether that’s academically, physically or emotionally, is not only held by Republicans, as Democratic Gov. Tim Walz — a former high school teacher himself — has expounded at length on the vital role face-to-face education has for younger students.

“We're going to prioritize and make sure that all of this was aimed at getting our littlest learners back into the classroom,” Walz said during a virtual press conference Dec. 16. “We've got kindergartners that should have walked through that door for the first day and been in that nurturing place. … Don't think that doesn't make a lifelong impression. Don't think that nurturing environment doesn’t bring out the best in each one of those children.”

Walz also acknowledged that 2020 has been “hellish” for educators as they try to overhaul their curricula and teaching models for distance learning. Larson echoed these sentiments, noting the Brainerd School District has struggled to keep itself afloat budget-wise while dealing with significant societal upheaval, employee shortages and dwindling government aid. There is hope on the horizon in the form of relief packages, new methods to combat COVID-19 and an imminent vaccine rollout for the community at large, but those aren’t here yet. While the situation presents a grueling challenge for staff, faculty and administrators, Larson said the district will do everything in its power to educate students and keep them safe.

“I just want to thank our community for their partnership and for working with us through this process,” Larson said. “It's been hard, and yet, I believe that the partnership that has occurred between Brainerd Public Schools and our community has been phenomenal. I'm really proud to be a part of this community and I thank everyone for their support. We can't wait to have those kids back.”

GABRIEL LAGARDE may be reached at or 218-855-5859. Follow at .
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