Little Falls schools to move to distance learning; S-M, WHA announce changes

Little Falls students will begin distance learning Oct. 26, while Staples-Motley secondary students began hybrid learning Oct. 19. Walker-Hackensack-Akeley seventh and eighth graders will distance learn for two weeks after positive COVID-19 cases.

Little Falls Community High School. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Little Falls Community Schools will begin distance learning for all students in preschool through 12th grade Oct. 26.

School board members made the decision Monday, Oct. 19, after a recommendation by Superintendent Stephen Jones driven largely by a steep increase in Morrison County COVID-19 cases. As of Monday, Morrison County had 607 positive cases, 314 of those coming since Oct. 1.

Jones made the announcement in a YouTube video following Monday’s meeting, giving several reasons for the transition. Students began the year in person, but those in seventh through 12th grades transitioned to a hybrid model Oct. 5.

“This is an announcement I was hoping I would not have to make. And it grieves me to do so,” Jones said in his video.

Morrison County Public Health reported a 14-day per 10,000 residents case rate of 75.8 Monday, Jones said, which is double the rate from Oct. 9. The state’s Safe Learning Plan adopted a chart to guide schools on recommended learning models based on that 14-day rate. At a rate of more than 50, the plan suggested distance learning for all students. Local public health officials believe that number will continue to rise.


Other reasons for the change Jones noted include:

  • Staffing concerns,

  • An increasing number of students choosing full-time distance learning,

  • A significant increase in district cases over the last five days and county cases in school-aged children (the latest case was reported Sunday, with an exposure date of Oct. 12 at the high school), and

  • Questions from families about why the district has not changed yet.

“I’m really having a hard time thinking about a potential outbreak in one of our buildings and being able to defend it while the case rate numbers in our county continue to go sky high,” Jones said, adding he knows the decision will upset some but still feels it is the best course of action.
“We want our kids in school. We really do,” he said. “But right now … I’m really struggling to understand that with the COVID outbreak happening in rural areas in Minnesota and the upper Midwest the way it is, how staying in school is the best choice for us at this point.”

More information will come in the next few days, including details about food services, child care and activities.

The district has purchased Wi-Fi hotspots and officials said they are prepared to work with families who have internet connectivity issues. Those who have any technology questions can call the tech help desk at 320-632-2020 with any technology-related questions.

“We’ve been blessed for these seven weeks. We wanted it to be longer, but right now we need to take a break,” Jones said. “... Hopefully, hopefully — keeping our fingers crossed — those numbers soon begin to plummet in the county and we can get our kids back in school every single day.”

Distance learning will continue until further notice. Those with questions or concerns can reach out to Jones at 218-632-2001 or .


The Staples-Motley School district began hybrid learning for seventh through 12th graders Monday as a result of the increasing cases.


Seventh and eighth grade students will attend in-person classes Monday, Tuesday and Thursday, with distance learning the other two days. Those in ninth through 12th grades will go in person Wednesday and Friday, with distance learning the other three days.

“As always, our goal is to have students on-site, full-time and this decision was not made lightly. Because of your partnership in keeping students healthy, we have not seen significant spread in our school buildings, however the spread in our community has become serious enough to make our first learning model change,” Superintendent Shane Tappe said in a letter to families.

“... Together, we can meet the challenges of this school year head-on and support our students so they can be successful.”


Seventh and eighth grade students at Walker-Hackensack-Akeley began a two-week distance learning period Monday after two positive COVID-19 cases. Junior high football and volleyball teams will have no games or practices during this time. Students are expected to return to class Nov. 2.

All students and staff who may have been exposed were contacted, the district announced on its Facebook page Sunday. Classes for students in all other grades will remain in person.

“And as always social distance, wear a mask, and wash your hands. We are in this together, let’s work hard to keep our schools open,” the Facebook post stated.


THERESA BOURKE may be reached at or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at .

Theresa Bourke started working at the Dispatch in July 2018, covering Brainerd city government and area education, including Brainerd Public Schools and Central Lakes College.
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