School staff ‘thrilled’ as students return to the classroom

Third, fourth and fifth graders are the next students getting ready to transition back to in-person classes Monday, Feb. 1, after their younger peers returned to the classroom Jan. 19.

Brainerd School Board members and Superintendent Laine Larson discuss learning models and the COVID-19 climate in the district during their meeting Monday, Jan. 25, livestreamed via YouTube. Screenshot / Theresa Bourke

“It’s like the first day of school all over again,” Brainerd Superintendent Laine Larson said of students returning to in-person classes last week.

Larson voiced her excitement at the gradual return of students to the physical classroom during the Brainerd School Board’s meeting Monday, Jan. 25.
“We’re just thrilled to have our kids back,” she added.

Students in early childhood through second grade stepped back into the buildings Jan. 19 after two months in a distance learning model amid a surge of local COVID-19 cases. Third, fourth and fifth graders will follow suit Feb. 1, with the district announcing late last week a new hybrid learning plan for fifth grade, allowing those students to be on-site five days a week.

Elementary students are in a modified in-person model, meaning students attend in-person classes every day. The fifth grade model will be similar, while also following the 50% capacity regulations mandated for hybrid models.

RELATED: Hope raised for in-person learning as more COVID-19 vaccine becomes available for school staffers Many staff members at schools in Brainerd, Pequot Lakes and Crosby-Ironton have either received a COVID-19 vaccine recently or are scheduled to do so.
The fifth grade’s previous learning plan had half the students spending every other day in the cafetorium. These “learning center” days meant there were hundreds of students in the large room each day, working on assignments and activities posted to their Google Classroom sites. The new plan will still see students in their classrooms every other day, but on the off days they will be in smaller learning cohorts that will switch classrooms throughout the day instead of spending all day in the cafetorium in one large group.


“On the days your child will not be in their classroom, they will follow their hourly schedule and will report to their Learning Cohort classrooms each period,” Forestview Middle School Principal Jon Anderson said in a letter to families Friday. “Students during their Learning Cohort days will not spend all day in the cafetorium, they will move to classes and locations and follow their schedule throughout the day.”

Also coming back on-site Feb. 1 are students at Lincoln Education Center, those in transitional programs and fifth through 12th grade students at the Brainerd Learning Center.

RELATED: It’s back to school — again — for many of Minnesota’s youngest students

Sixth through 12th grade students at Forestview Middle School and Brainerd High School are expected to return to on-site learning Feb. 16, but the exact model is not yet certain. The current plan is to bring students back in a hybrid model, with in-person classes two days a week and remote learning three days a week. But if COVID-19 cases in Crow Wing County continue trending downward, as they have for several weeks, Larson said she hopes to get the state to approve a modified in-person plan for the older students. If that were the case, students would attend in-person classes four days a week, with Wednesday designated as a distance learning day.

Larson plans to give another learning model update Feb. 5.

COVID-19 numbers in the schools

As of Monday, six staff members were in quarantine, and there had been nine positive COVID-19 cases in staff members since Jan. 1.

There were at least 25 student quarantines as of Monday, with at least 13 positive student cases since Jan. 1, though the total number of student cases and quarantines may not be known, as they are not all reported during distance learning.

RELATED: More COVID leave possible for Brainerd school employees Employees who are exposed to COVID-19 during work hours may be eligible for up to 10 additional days of paid leave.


Vaccinating staff

The state of Minnesota rolled out a pilot vaccine program for school staff members last week, with Brainerd Public Schools receiving 19 doses for employees, who had to travel to Fergus Falls to get them.

Both GuidePoint Pharmacy and Essentia Health kicked in more vaccine doses later in the week. As of Friday afternoon, GuidePoint estimated just over 300 vaccines available for school staff members, while Essentia Health had 350.

RELATED: Bringing back 5th grade: Brainerd school admins discuss in-person learning challenges While elementary students will begin returning to the physical classroom next week, the next learning model for fifth grade students has yet to be determined.
“For the most part, our staff had been very thrilled because between Friday and Tuesday of this week, a significant amount of people were able to get the vaccine,” Larson said, adding she did not know the exact number of employees who have been vaccinated.

The district was notified Monday of more spots available for staff members in the state’s pilot program. Larson said she expects about 19 more doses.

“It really has been a beautiful community partnership — not perfect, and not everybody is vaccinated, but we are so much better off today than we were a week ago at this time,” Larson said.

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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