Schools remain open, but area district officials are canceling events and taking actions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Administrators at Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Little Falls and Pine River-Backus schools issued statements Friday, March 13, to say they will keep schools open, according to recommendations from the state departments of health and education and federal government agencies.

Superintendents said they will continue to be in contact with the Minnesota Department of Health, Minnesota Department of Education and government officials to monitor the situation and take appropriate measures.

As of Friday afternoon, the department of health recommended schools remain open but take proper precautions with cleaning and social distancing when possible.

Social distancing involves limiting or reducing large group gatherings such as assemblies or large tournaments and also adjusting routines to reduce visitors or volunteers in buildings.

Superintendents from the four schools said their custodial staffs are ramping up cleaning and sanitizing efforts in school buildings.

Little Falls Superintendent Stephen Jones said in a statement to the community Friday the district secured orders for two cases of sanitizer and hand dispensers to be set up at key building entrance points and in cafeterias throughout the district beginning March 16. District staff began pre-packaging salads and sandwiches, he said, to eliminate contact with serving utensils.

Pequot Lakes Superintendent Chris Lindholm said in a statement to staff and parents the district will discuss how to achieve social distancing in the days ahead and will rely on the expertise of the state departments of health and education as it makes decisions. The custodial team increased cleaning protocols over spring break — which occurred March 9-13 — and distributed extra supplies for classroom use.

Lindholm said the district will continue to update its plans and provide families and staff with information as it becomes available via Skylert communications channels and on the district’s website under the “News and Media” menu.

“Finally, it’s important for us to communicate proactively that at this time we have no plans in Pequot Lakes Schools to implement an online learning strategy to replace the magic our teachers and staff create everyday in our learning spaces,” Lindholm wrote. “We simply don’t have the means to ensure that all students have access to internet connectivity, and we are obligated by law to provide education services to all students including those who are very young and those with disabilities. That said, this situation is evolving quickly and we will follow the guidance of MDH, MDE and the Governor.”

Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson also noted Friday how rapidly the coronavirus situation is evolving, but provided the Dispatch with the most updated information she had.

After hearing from health department officials and talking with nurses, food service workers and other district administrators, Larson said Brainerd has no plans to close, as is the state’s recommendation, but will continue to monitor students who have high medical needs and work with their families.

If the district needed to move toward distance learning in the future, Larson said Brainerd schools are equipped to do so.

“Our technology department has done a beautiful job of getting one-to-one technology,” she said, noting all high school students have their own Chromebooks now, and middle school students could if need be.

Distance learning does not necessarily mean e-learning, though, Larson said, noting take-home worksheets and other written assignments can be done as well.

“Really what we’re trying to do is just to contain whatever’s happening in Minnesota and try to minimize it,” she said.

In a letter to parents Friday afternoon, Larson said social distancing measures the district plans to take include standing 6 feet away from others, not shaking hands and limiting large group assemblies.

Brainerd school cancellations

Larson announced the following cancellations for the month of March:

  • Community education chess tournament at Forestview Middle School, March 14.

  • Community education Insight Dance at Cragun’s, March 16.

  • Harrison first- and second-grade concert at Tornstrom, March 19.

  • Kindergarten Round-up at elementary schools, March 19.

  • BHS/North Dakota State University wind symphony at Tornstrom, March 20.

  • Northland Arboretum Film Festival at Tornstrom, March 21.

  • National Honors Society Induction at BHS, March 23.

  • Brainerd Area Baseball Association travel baseball tryouts at Riverside Elementary School, March 23.

  • Garfield third- and fourth-grade dance, March 26.

  • Brainerd Area Youth Rally at Tornstrom, March 27.

  • Lakes Area Youth Soccer Association Referee Clinic at Forestview, March 28.

  • Lakes Area Youth Soccer Association annual meeting at Forestview, March 29.

  • Baxter Parks and Recreation soccer parent meeting at Forestview, March 30.

  • Community education adult enrichment classes.

  • Kinship Partners meetings.

As of Friday afternoon, the district said regularly scheduled after school meetings, activities and practices involving staff and students will continue as scheduled with prevention and social distancing measures taken where possible. No spectators or guests are allowed.

All school day instructional activities will continue as scheduled with prevention and social distancing measures in place. Parent and child Early Childhood Family education classes will continue as scheduled.

School board meetings on March 17 and March 23 will be livestreamed on the district’s YouTube channel but are still open to the public. The bus tour to Harrison, Nisswa and Baxter elementary schools scheduled March 23 is postponed.

Anyone with questions or concerns should contact communications@isd181.org. All Brainerd Public Schools communications will come from the district communications department to ensure all families get the same messages with the latest information from the Minnesota Department of Health.

Staples-Motley

The Staples-Motley Middle School play closed its performance Friday, March 13, with no audience. The performance was set to be video recorded and shared.

Saturday’s performance was canceled. Refunds will be processed for those with tickets.

Junior Achievement

Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest made the decision to implement the following changes effective Monday, March 16, through April 30:

  • All in-person and volunteer-driven Junior Achievement programming in schools or in after-school settings will be postponed or delivered virtually when possible.

  • Schools participating in on-site programming (JA BizTown, JA Finance Park, JA Innovation Incubator, competitions, etc.) will be rescheduled or delivered virtually when possible.

  • Non-programmatic events (i.e. trainings, meetings, etc.) will be conducted virtually or rescheduled.

  • Finally, they are implementing a virtual work environment for all Junior Achievement of the Upper Midwest team members.

“It won’t be ‘business as usual’ for a while, but we are no less committed to our mission and the students we inspire,” a news release stated. “Your continued support is appreciated and valued as we work through this unprecedented situation. We welcome your questions, concerns or ideas.”

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THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.