Students in grades K-8 at Crosslake Community School joined Pequot Lakes students in grades K-6 to returned to the classroom and in-person learning Monday, Jan. 11, at their schools.

This came after those students turned to distance learning in November when COVID-19 cases spiked in Crow Wing County.

In a letter to parents, Crosslake School Executive Director Clifford Skagen wrote: “The Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health adjusted the Minnesota Safe Learning Plan Guidelines to allow our students to return to in-person learning in early January, even if COVID-19 case rates remain high. This change is a result of health-related research which demonstrates that younger children do not face the same risk as older students and adults.”

Skagen wrote that because Crosslake School is a unique school that has a small number of students with a large building space, the school sought permission from the state to return students to school sooner than what the state had said it would allow.

“Under our unique circumstances, all CCS K-8 students will return at one time,” he wrote, with no rolling start dates, where certain grade levels return at one time and other grade levels return two weeks later, which other schools had to implement.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

That is the case for the Brainerd School District, which includes Nisswa Elementary School. A phased reopening plan calls for early childhood through second-grade classes to resume in-person learning Tuesday, Jan. 19, followed by third- and fourth-graders Monday, Feb. 1.

“We could not be more overjoyed that we will have our students back in person very soon,” Nisswa Elementary School Principal Molly Raske said Monday via email. “We so appreciate the commitment and support from our families and community.”

Although the state did not change existing guidelines for middle and high school students, because Crosslake School is a pre-K through grade 8 school, students in grades 6-8 fell under the elementary school guidelines and also were able to return to the classroom Monday.

After a winter break Dec. 23-Jan. 3, distance learning continued for Crosslake students on Monday-Wednesday, Jan. 4-6. There was no school Thursday and Friday, Jan. 7-8, to give teachers time to transition from distance learning to in-person learning.

To meet the Minnesota Safe Learning Plan requirements to limit the exposure of students to COVID-19, music classes are being taught in the classroom and physical education classes require masks all the time, Skagen wrote.

Other mitigation procedures at Crosslake School include contactless drop drop-off and pickup; limited access to the building for parents, volunteers and other community members; social distancing of 6 feet when possible; limited field trips to places that have larger numbers of people; buses at half capacity or less for transportation routes and field trips; and parents/guardians/families are encouraged to drive their students when possible.

“Jan. 11 is a day many of us have longed for. I cannot wait to see all of you again,” Skagen wrote. “I want to extend a warm ‘welcome back’ to you on behalf of all the CCS staff. In addition, I would like to thank you for your patience and understanding this fall and winter during distance learning and while we worked to change the state’s requirements so that CCS students could return to the classroom on Jan. 11.”

Skagen warned parents that if the area’s COVID-19 case count spikes again, or if the state changes guidelines again, students may have to return to distance learning.

Distance learning does remain an option through the end of the school year for area families who choose it.

Nancy Vogt may be reached at 218-855-5877 or nancy.vogt@pineandlakes.com. Follow her on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Nancy.