Crosby-Ironton and Little Falls are the latest lakes area school districts to announce a shift to distance learning due to increasing COVID-19 cases and staffing shortages.
Crosby-Ironton High School Principal Jennifer Strom announced Thursday, Nov. 12, students in seventh through 12th grades will begin full-time distance learning Nov. 30.
“Please know that our teachers are working very hard to prepare the very best education in these circumstances,” Strom wrote in a letter to families.
Students will remotely log into each class period daily for synchronous learning.
Administrators will continue to monitor the COVID-19 situation, Strom wrote, and there is not yet a date when distance learning will end.
“We understand that this will be new for some, and we are ready to help get students set up to be successful,” she said in the letter. “The first step in success is showing up!”
Little Falls Community Schools issued a news release Friday, Nov. 13, announcing all students will transition to distance learning for the second time this year.
Students first started distance learning Oct. 26 as COVID-19 cases soared in Morrison County. But after the Minnesota Department of Education clarified guidance in its Safe Learning Plan to let schools know they should take into account more data than just county statistics, Little Falls went back into hybrid learning for secondary students and in-person classes for the elementary school Nov. 16.
Now with the virus continuing to spread rapidly and large numbers of both students and staff members becoming ill or having to quarantine, the district will move back into distance learning for all students Nov. 23.
Friday, Nov. 20, will be a transition day for staff, with no classes for students.
“The District is aware that any Learning Plan transition is potentially disruptive to students and families,” the district’s statement said. “However, the continuing increase in COVID numbers in Morrison County is driving the necessity to transition to Distance Learning at Little Falls Community Schools.”
Superintendent Stephen Jones said during a school board meeting Thursday, Nov. 12, more than 50 staff members were absent that day, and the vast majority were due to COVID-19. While the district has done a good job trying to fill those gaps, Jones said there are still hardships. Even with some teachers continuing to teach from home while in quarantine, additional staff members are still needed to supervise students in the classrooms.
“Ultimately it comes down to being able to provide the best opportunity for our kids to learn and grow in the best environment possible, and right now that’s becoming a really difficult thing to swear to you that it’s happening with fidelity completely across our system simply because of the absences of staff related to COVID,” Jones said.
Distance learning will continue through the end of the first semester (Jan. 21) for secondary students and through at least Jan. 8 for the elementary school.
Around the region
Crosby-Ironton and Little Falls join Aitkin, Brainerd, Pequot Lakes, Pierz, Pillager, Staples-Motley and Wadena-Deer Creek in announcing shifts to distance learning this week for some or all students.
Five more regional schools appeared on the Minnesota Department of Health’s list this week of schools with five or more COVID-19 cases. Forestview Middle School in Baxter, Pequot Lakes Middle School, Pioneer Elementary School in Pierz, Staples-Motley Senior High and Wadena-Deer Creek Senior High are now on the list and will remain there until the buildings go 28 days without reporting a new case. All area secondary schools on the list are either in distance learning now or have plans to transition in the coming week. Kindergarten through fourth grade students at Pioneer Elementary School are still attending school in person. Preschool classes are not in session at this time, and fifth through 12th graders at Pierz are moving to distance learning, which Superintendent George Weber said will allow elementary students additional classroom space to spread out and more teachers to staff the extra rooms.
Weber said Friday he has been on the fence about moving elementary kids to distance learning, too, with the high case rate in Morrison County and Pierz specifically, but would like to to give this new model a shot first. The district’s plan has always been to keep elementary students in the building as long as possible, he said, as they tend to have a harder time with distance learning, and many families struggle with child care.
Area superintendents have repeatedly appealed to community members since the beginning of the school year to follow COVID-19 health guidelines set forth so students can attend in-person classes as much as possible.