The 2020-21 school year will mark major changes for Faribault Public Schools — not only because the seven-period day will kick off at Faribault High School, but because students will have the opportunity to enroll in online classes.
In partnership with the online learning platform Edgenuity, FHS will launch its first online courses in September. Edgenuity team members will facilitate the online classes in the first year its implemented and train FHS teachers already employed in the district to become online learning facilitators starting in 2021-22. Educators will also use this year to research more online classes to offer next year.
Faribault High School Assistant Principal Joe Sage and Multilingual and Equity Coordinator Sam Ouk presented the timeline for this new concept, Falcon Online, during the virtual School Board meeting Monday.
“Bottom line is we’ve known we’ve had to do something like this for many years,” said Sage. “Education is changing. We are losing students to other online platforms … being able to have what we’re calling the Falcon Online implementation put into effect to offer our own online courses really would provide a significant benefit to our students.”
According to the timeline, Sage and FHS Principal Jamie Bente will soon create an online survey to gauge teacher interest as well as an online student survey about possible class offerings. Sage, Bente, Ouk, Edgenuity team members and FHS students will then develop an online learning team. The FHS administration, counselors and students will prepare the application process in July, and Bente will post the course offerings soon after.
Sage said FHS will tentatively offer online courses in science, English, world languages and an elective yet to be determined. Falcon Online will also serve as an opportunity for FHS to expand its Pathways, which prepare students for various college programs and careers.
Vonna Dinse, director of the Faribault Area Learning Center, said students at her building have been using a hybrid model of online and in-person classes already, and some students will meet graduation requirements by doing independent studies through Edgenuity.
One of the goals of working with Edgenuity is to return students to Faribault Public Schools who may open enroll in other districts with online course accessibility. Edgenuity could potentially keep students from transferring to other schools, draw home schooled students to online offerings, and provide education to students who miss school for emotional or social reasons.
The online model will operate with four layers of support: a virtual instructor, on-site mentors, success coaches that work with the onsite mentors, and a special education coordinator. The administration and teachers, said Sage, will be able to sign onto the platform to see where students are in terms of progress.
In terms of cost, Sage said “It’s probably too early to quantify it, but we do believe this will be cost neutral for the district with the potential of increased revenue.”
School Board member Jason Engbrecht, who has taught college physics for about 20 years, said although he supports the online learning initiative, he said he’s never seen an online scenario that is perceived as “the same level” as in-person courses.
“I can see reasons why it is beneficial for us to look at these online experiences, and I am happy and enthusiastic that you guys are doing so, but as someone having watched this world for a lot of years, I would really suggest we employ some caution as we dive head first into it,” said Engbrecht.
Engbrecht said it’s an understanding among professors that only about 60% of a course’s material can be covered in an online format due to the limitations of the online world. He said he would encourage parents and students to first understanding these limitations before diving into online learning.
Ouk agreed with Engbrecht’s comments. During distance learning in the spring, said said students shared that they missed interacting with peers and their teachers. However, Falcon Online would grant students the option to participate in online learning on site.
Sage added that the intention isn’t to move students away from the classroom but to provide offerings to students who choose to take that route. The hybrid model, he said, would allow students to enjoy school but also take online courses.
If students enroll in online courses through Faribault Public Schools, they can work on their assignments at school and get guidance from teachers. The environment Ouk and Sage envision is a coffee shop or café atmosphere in designated classrooms.
Ouk pointed out that online learning may not work for all students at all levels, elementary students especially. For younger students, Ouk promotes personalized learning. That means adding more aspects of technology, using more self-paced learning and not operating on a time-based model.
Student representatives Alli Velander and Kaylee Tourtillott were invited to share their thoughts on the online course model.
“… Every single student learns differently,” said Velander. “The option of online courses would give the students the ability to push themselves, to work at their own pace and to be more independent with their learning.”
Added Tourtillott: “We also feel that online learning would give the rewarding feeling of being in control over your own success. Online courses would teach students the responsibility and time management that they would need in order to complete the course and in the future would help them as well.”
Following the presentation, Tourtillott said to Sage and Ouk, “I think you guys are doing an amazing job so far.”
Attorney General Keith Ellison has filed a motion on behalf of Gov. Tim Walz to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the legality of the governor’s Peacetime State of Emergency declaration.
Filed on May 28, the lawsuit is backed by the Free Minnesota Small Business Coalition, a group of more than 40 businesses across the state, as well as four state legislators affiliated with the New House Republican Caucus. Two of those legislators, Rep. Steve Drazkowski of Mazeppa and Rep. Jeremy Munson of Lake Crystal, represent districts in southern Minnesota. Both staunch conservatives, they left the main House Republican Caucus over frustration with its leadership. Sen. Mike Goggin, of Red Wing, and two other state senators have also joined the suit against Walz.
The NHRC has long been harshly critical of the governor’s executive orders since they were first implemented in mid-March. In May, they minced no words opposing the latest extension of the Peacetime Declaration of Emergency.
While this is the first lawsuit joined by members of the legislature, it’s just the latest chapter in the ongoing legal battle between the governor and the coalition. In April, the group filed a separate lawsuit in the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
That lawsuit argued the governor’s orders violated the 14th Amendment, known as the Equal Protection Clause, because some businesses were allowed to remain open or reopen while others with similar profiles were not.
It was ultimately dismissed because the court ruled that it did not have the authority to rule on the constitutionality of the governor’s executive orders because the Legislature did not provide the court of appeals with the power of judicial review. The ruling dealt a blow to the coalition’s hopes of reopening the government as soon as possible. However, another group known as the Midwest Law Center is continuing to pursue that line of argument in federal court.
The business coalition took the opportunity to retool its argument. Its new lawsuit continues to claim that the governor’s executive orders run afoul of the U.S. Constitution, while adding the new claim that they violate the state Constitution as well.
In its latest lawsuit, the coalition and caucus are represented by attorney Erick Kaardal, a former secretary/treasurer of the Republican Party of Minnesota. Kaardal insists that his activism derives less from a conservative bent than his staunch opposition to government overreach. He says the latest lawsuit is inspired by the successful challenge to Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’s emergency executive orders.
By challenging the orders on state rather than federal grounds, and arguing that the governor has usurped powers rightly delegated to the Legislative and Judiciary branches, Kaardal has said the lawsuit is able to sidestep questions regarding public health risks.
First, the lawsuit argues that the governor has overstepped his authority to write de facto laws criminalizing certain behaviors, such as opening a business during the pandemic without permission from the state.
The plaintiffs argue that the findings of the Court of Appeals in its prior case further establish a breach of separation of powers. Given the absence of a provision allowing judicial review, they say the Judicial branch’s authority to consider constitutional questions has been compromised.
Secondly, the lawsuit claims that the executive order statute is unconstitutional because under state law, the Governor’s Emergency Declaration only ends, and pieces of it may be overturned, only if both chambers of the legislature vote to end it.
Thirdly, the lawsuit claims that the law allowing the “Peacetime State of Emergency” declaration is intended to be used for tornadoes, floods and other short term disturbances, not an ongoing pandemic.
The Attorney General’s office strongly contests those claims. In addition to helping the governor to draft his executive orders, Attorney General Ellison has signed off on the orders as a member of the executive council.
“Governor Walz, the Executive Council and I are sympathetic to the struggle of small businesses,” Ellison said in a written statement. “We recognize that this is a difficult time for them and for everyone. Every Minnesotan does. But the governor has issued his executive orders to protect the health of all Minnesotans — including these business owners — from a global pandemic that no one alive has ever lived through. He has also been responsive to circumstances and concerns as they emerge and has tailored his orders dynamically to meet them. I stand behind the legality and constitutionality of the governor’s executive orders and will strongly defend them in court.”
In contrast to the state legislature, where the DFL-controlled House has stopped the Republicans from passing a bill to end the Peacetime State of Emergency, the executive council must give the governor their affirmative consent to continue the order.
Ellison serves on the executive council along with his fellow statewide elected officials — Secretary of State Steve Simon, State Auditor Julie Blaha and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flagan. Elected in 2018, all are DFLers.
A lack of standing
In his petition to dismiss the case, the state argues that the governor’s measures are well in line with those implemented in other states and have succeeded in reducing hospitalizations, citing an analysis published in the Journal of American Medicine.
The state further argues that the petitioners lack sufficient standing in the case. Citing a 2015 court case, he says that they would need to show that they have suffered “a concrete and particularized invasion of a legally protected interest.”
While the businesses have demonstrated that they have suffered damages from the forced closure of their businesses, the state says they didn’t show how this specifically constitutes a “legally protected interest.”
The standing of the legislators is dealt with separately by the state. The state maintains that its argument regarding usurpation of powers is too broad, as Minnesota has traditionally allowed legislators to sue only when they have suffered “personalized” harm.
The state then turns to the meat of the petitioners’ arguments. He says that the Legislature’s decision to allocate powers to the executive branch is not excessive, but rather an appropriate “cooperative venture” between the branches.
Citing a 1964 court case involving then Gov. Wendell Anderson, the state maintains that the governor’s decisions under the Peacetime State of Emergency fall under his authority to exhibit discretion as provided under the law to help the law adapt to changing circumstances.
In addition to the requirement that the emergency consist of an “act of nature” or other significant event, the state must also show that life and property are in danger and local government resources are inadequate to deal with the situation.
The petitioners did not contest the last two points but argued that a pandemic does not constitute an “act of God.” Citing federal guidelines and a ruling issued earlier this month by the Stearns County District Court, the state maintains that all of those standards are clearly met.
“The COVID-19 pandemic presents one of the most complex and rapidl -evolving crises in Minnesota’s history,” the filing stated. “This is the type of situation for which the legislature should, and frequently does, delegate authority to the governor to respond.”
The state also dismisses the argument that the requirement that both Houses of the Legislature must vote to repeal the Peacetime Declaration of Emergency, described by the legislators as a “legislative veto,” represents illegal usurpation.
The case is likely to go cold for several weeks, with a hearing not scheduled until July 16. The leisurely timetable runs counter to the plaintiffs’s desire to receive emergency relief as soon as possible.
As COVID-19 continues to ravage the state, officials at Minnesota’s 87 county election offices are preparing to organize an election like never before.
Early voting for Minnesota’s primary elections is set to begin on Friday. Held on Aug. 12, the primary will have a notable lack of competitive races — a stark contrast to 2018, when both major parties had competitive races for governor, U.S. senator and other statewide races.
This year, most southern Minnesota voters will see just one race on the ballot — that for the U.S. Senate seat now held by Sen. Tina Smith. Both Smith and her Republican-endorsed challenger, former U.S. Rep. Jason Lewis, face only nominal primary challenges.
Northfield will also have a contested primary race after two challengers stepped up to run against Mayor Rhonda Pownell. Under state law, the third place finisher in the primary won’t be on the November ballot.
The primary itself may be a snoozefest, but it will give local election officials a dry run to practice safely running an election amid the pandemic. That’s sure to come in handy in the fall, when the presidency, Smith’s U.S. Senate seat, all members of Congress and the entire state legislature will be on the ballot.
Rice County Property Tax and Elections Director Denise Anderson said that in Faribault, the setup for early voting will be different this year not only due to COVID, but also due to the County Government Center’s recently completed expansion.
In past years, voters at the government center came behind the counter to cast an early vote at a secure and private voting booth. This year, they’ll have a room of their own to vote in, reducing the amount of contact with the work area of county elections officials.
Rice County voters can also vote at Northfield City Hall. At both locations, individuals who want to cast an early vote will be greeted at the door and directed to the elections area. Circles will be demarcated to help voters follow social distancing protocol.
Voters are strongly encouraged, though not required, to bring a mask and pen of their own. If a voter doesn’t bring a pen of their own, the Property Tax and Elections Department can provide a pen, which will be sanitized after use.
Instead of going to the polls or to the courthouse to cast an early vote, Anderson strongly urged voters to request an absentee ballot. While Minnesota elections have typically taken place mostly on election day, the state has allowed no-excuse absentee voting since 2013. In recent years, about 1 in 4 Minnesotans have taken advantage of early and absentee voting. That number is expected to skyrocket this year, with a record number of requests already received by the Secretary of State’s office.
In order to run an in-person election, the state traditionally employs a large number of poll workers. Under state law, employers are required to provide employees time off to work as a poll worker, so long as the employee provides at least 20 days notice.
Still, a disproportionate number of poll workers are older and thus particularly vulnerable to COVID. Many of them have already indicated to local election officials that they aren’t comfortable working this election.
Secretary of State Steve Simon is strongly encouraging Minnesotans of all ages to sign up to work as poll workers. While the job won’t be risk free, a bill co-authored by Rep. Jeff Brand, DFL-St. Peter, has helped to secure millions in funding for election safety measures.
Thanks in part to that funding, county elections departments are planning unprecedented investments in Personal Protective Equipment for election workers, cleaning supplies and voter outreach efforts to encourage absentee voting.
Still, Simon said that to ensure voter safety, the said the state needs to find a way to reduce the voter to polling place ratio, which currently sits at roughly 1,000 to 1 statewide. The most important thing voters can do to help accomplish this goal is simple — vote by mail.
In a handful of small towns and rural townships, no polling place will be open on Election Day — instead, absentee ballots will be mailed to all voters. Voters who don’t live in one of those municipalities can request an absentee ballot online or mail a request to the county elections office.
In order for the vote to count, it must be received through the mail by Election Day or dropped off at the county elections office by 3 p.m. Voters can track the status of their absentee/mail in ballot via the state’s online Voter Information Portal at pollfinder.sos.state.mn.us.