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Faribault Community Center about to reopen, Aquatic Center a no-go

Amid the global pandemic, a favorite summer recreation spot that evokes warm memories for so many Faribault families won’t open its doors at all this season.

Parks and Recreation Director Paul Peanasky made the official announcement at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting. While the city is reinstating other programming, Peanasky said that the cost and risk of reopening the pool would be too great to justify.

Despite the loosening of restrictions under Gov. Tim Walz’s most recent executive orders, staff for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department won’t return to work until the week of June 22. That’s when fitness classes and other activities are slated to resume. Peanansky said that when classes resume that day, it’s likely that strict caps on class sizes will be in effect. Under current guidelines, indoor classes will be limited to 10 participants, while outdoor classes will be allowed to have up to 25.

The fitness center is set to reopen June 18, but with an abundance of restrictions. Gym members will be expected to make an appointment in advance for a one-hour workout window, with just five allowed at any one time.

While the fitness center is traditionally open from 5:30 a.m. to 8 p.m., its new hours will be much more limited. Peanasky said that at first, it will only be open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., with a one-hour break in the middle to accommodate rigorous cleaning.

That approach is similar to the one being taken place by the Community Center’s next door neighbor, Buckham Memorial Library. Buckham Memorial will allow patrons to browse its shelves once again, but only by appointment and with limited hours and strict occupancy limitations in place.

While many activities at the Community Center may be able to resume with minimal delay, the Aquatic Center in North Alexander Park would have taken much more time to open. Peanasky told the council that by the time it would have been ready, barely a month would have been left of the Aquatic Center’s traditional season.

In addition, Peanasky raised concerns about the logistics of keeping such large crowds safe at the Aquatic Center amid the pandemic. Under the governor’s executive order, just 250 people could be present at the Aquatic Center at any one time. Peanasky raised concerns that large crowds would gather outside, waiting for one person to leave so another could enter. Maintaining social distancing and required sanitation in locker rooms and bathrooms would also be challenging, he said.

“We’re not as worried about getting people in the pool as we are getting them to the pool,” said the department’s communications coordinator, Brad Phenow.

Faribault Mayor Kevin Voracek expressed disappointment that the Aquatic Center won’t open this year. However, he said that the Aquatic Center’s bottom line is often in a challenging position, and trying to open it this year would have had a huge fiscal impact.

“We haven’t made money since Owatonna and Northfield opened their pools, so it’s a tough call every year to open the pool,” he said “This year it was decided it wouldn’t be worth it with a month and a half already down the drain.”

Phenow clarified that the indoor pool at the Community Center will open by mid-July. That’s much the same timetable the Aquatic Center would have opened on, had the city chosen to open it.

Faribault’s neighbors have made different decisions on the issue. Both Northfield and Owatonna recently announced plans to open their pools. Northfield will open on July 1, while Owatonna will open in a limited capacity next week.

City of Owatonna Recreation Director Eric Anderson stressed the difference between Owatonna’s position and the one Faribault finds itself in. He said that because swimming lessons and other classes had long been planned, the city didn’t want to cancel them. Owatonna’s pool will only be open for such classes, ensuring a minimal amount of traffic. However, Anderson said it’s likely that the pool will open for open swim at some point in the near future.

Northfield’s City Council confirmed plans to reopen July 1. City Administrator Ben Martig said that although the city will take a financial hit, the audit recently presented to Council shows that its overall finances should be more than healthy enough to accommodate it.

Activities at the pool will be more restricted than in years past. With no concession sales on site, Martig said that the city will have to come up with specific guidelines for patrons who want to bring their own food.

The city has plenty of work to do before than July 1 deadline. Martig said that staff have not yet begun the process of de-winterizing the pool, and lifeguards will need to be formally hired, though qualified candidates have already been interviewed and chosen.

Urban chicken ordinance again piques interest of Faribault council

More than two years after the discussion was largely shelved after the intervention from one of the city’s largest employers, a request from an 11-year-old boy has divided Faribault’s City Council and reignited a controversial issue.

After being told by a city inspector that he could not keep chickens within city limits, Zach Klecker emailed the City Council to ask for a reprieve. Klecker attended Tuesday night’s council meeting, with his mother Kathy reading his statement to the council.

While Klecker has managed to arrange for his six chickens to be kept at a family friend’s farm outside of city limits, he expressed hopes that a change in city ordinance could enable that move to be only temporary.

Several Faribault City Council members expressed support for Klecker’s cause. Councilor Jonathan Wood visited the chicken coop and said he was impressed with how well designed and maintained the Klecker’s arrangement is.

“I don’t think they could have done a better job,” he said. “They had a really nice chicken coop, very well maintained, with a 15-20 square-foot area for the chickens to run around.”

With no rooster to crow at the crack of dawn, the Kleckers say their animals are well behaved and don’t cause a racket. Yet under the city established ordinance, they are prohibited from owning chickens.

In addition to Wood, Councilors Peter van Sluis and Elizabeth Cap expressed interest in discussing the issue further. Should four councilors ask for a fuller discussion at next week’s meeting, the council could begin talking about what an ordinance allowing urban chickens might look like.

Mayor Kevin Voracek was much more skeptical, though he said it has nothing to do with the Kleckers. He said he’s also seen their coop, and has no doubt that the Kleckers are taking excellent care of their chickens.

“It’s unfortunate that this happened to this young gentleman but city codes are there for a reason,” he said. “It looks like a very nice well kept coop, but it’s still against the law.”

Three years ago, the city’s Planning Commission voted to recommend allowing city residents to have bees and goats inside city limits. However, the commission declined to recommend allowing chickens, due to concern that it could lead to the spread of avian flu.

A majority of councilors voted to override that decision, asking the Planning Commission to draw up a potential ordinance to allow urban chickens. That ordinance would have placed strict regulations on chickens to limit the spread of disease and avoid bothering neighbors. Ultimately, the council rejected the proposed ordinance. Voracek said the council’s concerns were twofold. First, implementing the proposed regulatory framework could have required more use of city resources than the city was willing to expend.

In addition, councilors came around to the commission’s aforementioned fear that the change could spark a bird flu outbreak. Supporters of urban chickens insisted that as long as the chickens were well controlled, risk would be minimal, but the council was unmoved.

With the staunch opposition of Jennie-O Turkey Store, the proposal was defeated. Councilor van Sluis, while supportive of reopening the discussion, acknowledged that without Jennie-O’s acquiescence, an ordinance would not likely pass.

In 2016, the avian, or bird flu, had affected 108 farm operations in 23 Minnesota counties and prompting the killing of over 9 million turkeys. More than 225 workers at Faribault’s Jennie-O , were furloughed, and county and state fairs disallows birds from its celebrations that year.

However, Wood and van Sluis said they’re still optimistic that some sort of resolution could pass. Wood noted that even major cities such as Minneapolis and St. Paul allow residents to have chickens on their property.

Wood said he believes the key is to put together a simple but clear permitting process to address concerns. He said his support for allowing chickens in the city is rooted in a general belief that government should limit its interference in people’s personal lives

“I’m all about empowering our residents,” Wood said. “Let’s make sure we’re not infringing on anyone’s right to happiness.”

Graduation 2020

(Metro Creative Images)

Ruby Gernandt

Ruby Gernandt (green jersey) missed last year’s state meet while battling injuries, but will enter this season with three state appearances under her belt. She and the Falcons claimed the program’s highest Big 9 Conference finish last year in second. (Daily News File Photo)

District examines ways to make distance learning more equitable

Equity has become an ongoing discussion at Faribault Public Schools, where a 40% population of English Learner students means one size does not fit all.

While students and families navigated distance learning the final months of the academic year, issues of inequity became more apparent than ever. To prevent some of those issues from recurring, should distance learning resume in the future, district multilingual and equity coordinator Sam Ouk developed a plan.

Ouk presented his findings to the School Board during Monday’s virtual meeting along with a plan of action. Topics he explored included technology for students, communication, teaching and learning, and grading practices.

“What the equity team had discussed is that we as a district here, we need to set goals for ourselves, and we need to be able to hold each other accountable,” said Ouk. “... We can open up good programs and good practices in the classroom, but we need to support equity and best practices for all students. We need to take equity seriously and provide proper resources to the equity teams.”

Families’ access to technological devices was one issue that came up during distance learning. Even if families owned devices, some larger families with children in different grade levels needed to share computers and tablets. Ouk said this often resulted in younger children, primarily those with no internet access, connecting less frequently with their teachers. The equity team is pushing for one-to-one devices at each grade level, said Ouk, meaning each student will have their own device.

For parents to hear they needed internet access for their children’s education, often while dealing with job loss during the pandemic, was hard on families, said Ouk. According to his research, 141 families in the district did not have WiFi access at the beginning of distance learning. But after reaching out to internet and mobile phone service providers, the district was able to help families get free internet trials. Over 70 families also received hot spots, allowing them to connect to the internet.

Inequity in technology also applied to parents’ knowledge of some of the online learning tools and platforms. Ouk explained that many parents never learned how to use platforms the district relies on like Seesaw until distance learning, and they couldn’t do so without having the required technology.

“We’ve created such a beautiful world digitally right now, and we forget so many people don’t even have access to it,” said Ouk.

With technology as a huge barrier for a number of families, Ouk suggested that instead of pulling back access to devices over the summer, the district provide training to parents in preparation for the fall. This way, their struggles from spring shouldn’t be repeated.

Communication also presented challenges for families. For students of color and English Learner students working with multiple teachers, it became a struggle for them to prioritize who to respond to first and which needs to meet when, said Ouk. He proposed the district invest time in developing a more efficient way of communicating to address these concerns.

What worked well during distance learning, said Ouk, was moving cultural liaisons to a centralized practice. By sharing their calendars with Ouk, cultural liaisons became less overwhelmed weren’t overbooked with appointments. Coordinating specific office hours also came in handy for students who needed EL and/or reading support.

From a teaching and learning perspective, Ouk encouraged teachers to view themselves as learning facilitators and shift their focus away from assigned daily tasks. Students need to learn to pace themselves, he said, and many need time to help around the house in addition to school work. Ouk also pointed out that students with technological access have the ability to find answers to assignments by simply opening their phones, so teachers need to keep building relationships with their students and provide them with engaging information.

Ouk said, “Some students will end up at different spots as well,” and that makes differentiation of substance important. Instead of sticking to a pen and paper test given at the end of each unit, he encouraged teachers to explore other avenues. Even projects don’t need to be limited to “one way.” For example, if a student is assigned a history project, he suggested they be allowed to research topics beyond U.S. history. In future situations of distance learning, he said “our grading needs to be on the mastery of skills and not just assignment based.”

A call for change

Following his presentation, Ouk shared his perspective on what the district can do to become more equitable. He called the district out for sometimes getting caught up in the talking and planning stages without knowing how to move forward. He offered to step up and do whatever it takes for the district to keep working toward more equitable practices.

Ouk also reasoned that change doesn’t need to be expensive. It doesn’t take money to change a culture, he said, but a shift in perspective. That means teachers being viewed as learning facilitators and leaders being responsible for providing clearer directives to staff.

Board member Jason Engbrecht asked Ouk to speak to the challenges of hiring diverse staff in the schools. He shared his sentiment that his own daughter, who is black, may graduate high school before ever having a teacher who looks like her.

Ouk responded that the lack of diverse staff at Faribault Public Schools has bothered him a lot. If there are opportunities to hire diverse staff, he said the district doesn’t “jump on it fast enough.” Another conflict is that older refugees with experience still may not have a teaching license. He encouraged the district to hire people of color whenever possible.

“Another piece I see in our district here, when we hire for diversity, we tend to marginalize the people we hire,” said Ouk. It seems OK to hire a Somali liaison, but then they only work with Somali students and parents. No other students see them as role models. We have to look at all those areas and see where we can diversify.”

Board member Jerry Robicheau pointed out that “hiring persons of color is just the first step” and referenced a previous student of his who wrote a dissertation on why persons of color leave the teaching profession. What the student discovered, he said, is that teachers of color need to know there’s a support system for them, and they are not there to represent a whole population but simply represent themselves.

Superintendent Todd Sesker also shared that the district applied for a grant to allow students to explore the education field, and students of color will be the primary recruits. The work will be done in partnership with Minnesota State University, Mankato to eliminate barriers for students of color to get into education programs.