A webinar with state health and education officials set for Wednesday, Aug. 4, will hopefully shed some more light on opening plans for schools this fall.

Brainerd Assistant Superintendent Heidi Hahn said she hopes that meeting, along with a subsequent meeting later this week among school administrators throughout Region Five, will give district leaders information needed to move forward with preparing for the 2021-22 school year.

“We’re really waiting to get all that information because things are changing really quickly,” Hahn said during a phone interview Tuesday, noting the University of Minnesota and Minnesota State systems just announced masking requirements for their campuses this fall.

RELATED: Parent petition rejects masks for ‘21-22 year: School board to discuss opening plans on Aug. 9

Brainerd’s current summer COVID-19 plan does not require masks, except on transportation, which is mandated by the state.

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“But there’s so much coming out so fast. We want to make sure we’re mindful and don’t say something that we can’t fulfill,” Hahn said.

District leaders will update school board members on the COVID-19 climate during the board meeting scheduled Aug. 9, but the board is not expected to vote on a mask mandate at that time, Hahn clarified. For now, she said the district will operate under its summer COVID-19 plan and plans to have students in the building five full days a week, but will likely make more concrete decisions on an opening plan during the Aug. 23 school board meeting, which is two weeks before school starts.

“I think the big message that we’re really trying to get across is we have students and families that are at all different spots with this and for their own reasons,” Hahn said. “And so we really, as a school district, want to be respectful and responsive to the needs of all of our kids and families. So we really need to have time to be mindful in putting that plan together.”

Heidi Hahn
Heidi Hahn

Online learning

The distance learning option mandated by the state during the last school year will not be available for students this year, but some sort of online learning likely will be.

Hahn said the state is not allowing the same form of distance learning as last year but instead has allowed districts to apply through the state to create an online option for students. Brainerd has put the application in, and Hahn said the new option will likely not include live instruction with classroom teachers. It will mostly likely be an online curriculum with a learning manager.

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The district plans to send a survey out to parents soon to get a feel for how many families are looking for an online learning option this fall.

In October 2020, the school board approved a plan for Brainerd Online School, which has since been approved by the Minnesota Department of Education. Not to be confused with distance learning, the online school will allow high school students the option to take core and elective classes online. It is not a full online high school but a supplemental program designed to offer more options for students in an ever-changing education environment. Hahn said there are already students enrolled in classes through the online school.

Now the district has to figure out what online learning could look like for younger students, should families desire to go that route this fall.

“Again, people are at all different spots, and we need to respect where people are at,” Hahn said. “And then from a school district perspective, we are going to try to do all we can to meet the needs of our kids and keep our students and staff safe and healthy.”

The school board’s next meeting is at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 9, in the boardroom at the Washington Educational Services Building.

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