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TCU Lonsdale Elementary School emptied after distance learning went into effect. Local districts are preparing for potentially another year of distance learning as well as in-person learning and a hybrid model which combines elements of both. ( Lonsdale file photo)


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Local farmers markets remain active this summer
Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

The Le Sueur Farmers Market has a whole slate of activities planned for the summer and a new cotton candy bar with 30 different flavors. For many local farmers markets, business has remained steady. (Photos by Carson Hughes/Le Sueur County News)

Through changing times, local farmers markets haven’t slowed down a bit.

On July 29, the Le Sueur Farmers Market held a Hawaiian Luau in American Legion Park, part of a series of themed family night events the market is holding every week. More than 40 people attended the Hawaiian-themed event, which featured 30 local businesses, games, music and food for all ages. While concerns over COVID-19 have continued into the summer months, that hasn’t stopped events like the Hawaiian Luau from being a success.

“We’ve got like 30 vendors so we’re doing pretty good,” said Karen Wagner, manager of the Le Sueur Farmer’s Market. “We’re looking for more.”

“It hasn’t really been bad,” said Robin Seger, assistant manager of the Le Sueur Farmers Market. “We do a lot of advertising. Karen and I really promote it out there, get it on a lot of different Facebook pages and then of course vendors share ‘We’re at the farmer’s market, come on out,’ so it really hasn’t been too bad. There’s been a positive reaction to it.”

Wagner and Seger aimed to make the event a one-stop shop for families in the evening. Patrons were served Hawaiian burgers, in the spirit of the theme, from Gary’s Goodies, as well as hot dogs, walking tacos and frozen treats from the Ice Queen food truck. It also featured a new attraction, Froggy’s Cotton Candy Bar, which offered more than 30 different flavors of cotton candy to choose from.

After dinner, families could shop at one of the many vendors offering clothing, toys, face masks, jewelry, decorations and more. Kids enjoyed limbo, ring tosses, a duck guessing game and could even win prizes from the activities.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

Lily and Emma Turek pick out ducks from a pool in order to have the chance to win a prize. Both girls went home happy with their prizes and played many of the other games featured at the Le Sueur Farmers Market.

“Our goal is to make it family-oriented,” said Seger. “Each week is a different theme. Next week is our Bubble Splash in the Summer. We’ll have the fire truck doing their big spray hose, we’ll have bubbles for the kids, we’ll have games for the kids. We just want to make it so families can bring their kids, come have dinner, play at the park, enjoy the vendors and just relax outside in the community.”

Weekly events are running through the end of October, with themes ranging from ‘50s, 60s, 70s rock around the clock” to Halloween, as well as food and clothing drives.

Coronavirus restrictions haven’t been much of an obstacle. State guidance for outdoor events like the farmers market are looser compared to requirements for indoor events. Under state guidance outdoor markets must ensure six feet between tables, have a maximum occupancy of 250 people, and include additional precautions for food sampling.

“They can take all these sports away, they take all these concerts away, but at least we still have our farmer’s markets to come out to and enjoy being outside in the fresh air,” said Seger.

Carson Hughes / By CARSON HUGHES carson.hughes@apgsomn.com 

The Le Sueur Farmers Market featured multiple meal options from the Ice Queen food truck to Gary’s Goodies to Froggy’s Cotton Candy Bar.

In some cases, farmers markets are doing even better than usual. Nicole Jensen, manager of the St. Peter Farmers Market said that the market is seeing more vendors and more sales. On Saturdays, the market sees 6-8 different vendors and has seen a recent influx of new vendors on Tuesdays with an average of four or five each week selling produce, handmade apparel, masks, canned goods, pickles. jams, local honey and more.

“That’s a great improvement and we’re expecting a few more vendors to join us in the next couple of weeks,” said Jensen.

The St. Peter Farmers Market is also planning to bring in some new attractions. Every Saturday during the month of August, the St. Peter Public Library will be at the market with the bookmobile doing a book giveaway. The market is also looking to bring in Mending Spirits Animal Rescue.

“Everyone has just been really great as far as customers trying to follow the CDC guidelines and what not, but it feels very normal except for the fact that we’re wearing masks and things,” said Jensen. “It’s been a nice sense of regularity for people.”


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Early morning fire damages 2 historic buildings in Montgomery

An historic building declared hazardous last month by Montgomery city officials was destroyed in an early Wednesday morning fire.

Firefighters from three departments — Montgomery, Le Center, Lonsdale and New Prague — helped doused flames at 104 First St. The brick building, and one to its north that housed Franek Plumbing and Heating, were built in 1896.

The fire was extensive and destroyed the roof of the building, owned by Robert and Bonita Taraba. The fire also traveled to the Franek building, a third building was hit with water damage and another was damaged by smoke.

Montgomery City Administrator Brian Heck said that the Taraba’s building wasn’t safe for area investigators and that the cause of the fire is still unknown. So far, only the fire marshal has entered the building, but cleared the scene by early afternoon.

“All we know is it started upstairs and flames traveled to the next building over,” added Heck.

The building was declared a structural and fire hazard at a June 15 Montgomery City Council meeting. City Building Official Corey Block said that the building had been abandoned for more than a year and was in decrepit condition prior to when the fire broke out.

“It was falling apart,” said Block. “Bricks were falling off the building. The roof had holes in it.”

According to city documents, Block inspected the building in March 2019 and followed up that July. At the time, no corrective measures had been taken. In addition to problems with the roofs, Block then noted that the two-story structure’s chimney were dilapidated, and bricks were falling off of the south chimney to the ground below.

“Loose bricks on the front parapet will drop directly onto the sidewalk or bounce off the awning into the street. The potential for this is high and could be deadly,” Block wrote in a July 26, 2019 memo. “This building poses imminent danger to the neighboring properties and to the general public on the street and sidewalk. This building is a public health and safety hazard.”

Block also noted that the building could become infested with rodents and with mold.

Heck said that Taraba had been given notice that the building had been declared hazardous and was given until July 8 to respond to the city’s notification. However, Heck said that no response came. From that point on, Taraba had until mid-August to tear down the building. If nothing was done by that date, the city would have sought a judicial order to remove it.

Since the building had already been designated a public safety hazard, the city went ahead and brought down the structure Wednesday afternoon, Heck said, using contractors Braithe Excavating and Zelle Excavating. The neighboring building, which suffered extensive damage, will not be immediately be brought down, as the owners will work with their insurance providers to decide a course forward.


Tenley Powell gets down for a return in the kindergarten through second grade LSH Youth Tennis camp. (Pat Beck/St. Peter Herald)


The Le Sueur Community Center will soon open on Sept. 1. The fitness center, gym and racquetball courts will open at the beginning of the month while the ice arena will open on September 26. The indoor pool and locker rooms will remain closed. (Le Sueur County News file photo)


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Minnesota schools get some flexibility on back-to-school

Minnesota state officials on Thursday unveiled a plan to reopen schools this fall that gives districts some flexibility to toggle between in-person and online learning, but reserves the right for the state to step in if the coronavirus gets out of control.

Gov. Tim Walz, a former teacher, acknowledged the importance of schools and the value of in-person learning, but said the state’s top priority is safety. Districts will work with the state Health and Education departments to determine whether to use in-person instruction, online learning or a hybrid model, and will have the ability to become more or less restrictive depending on the virus.

The plan requires both public schools and charter schools to allow students and teachers to choose remote learning no matter what model the district chooses.

TCU

Tri-City United Titans will likely set foot in their classrooms again this fall, but not 100% of the time.

“I’m happy to see it wasn’t a ‘one size fits all,’” TCU Superintendent Lonnie Seifert said.

Based on the current cases per 10,000 in Le Sueur and Rice counties, Seifert said the hybrid model would be most appropriate for TCU Schools as of July 30. However, further feedback from parents will help the district solidify the plan moving forward.

TCU families already completed a survey earlier in the summer to share their preferences for a 2020-21 classroom model with the options of face to face, distance learning or a hybrid format. The district will release a second survey to gauge parents’ input now that the mask mandate is effective and Walz has made his announcement. Results will give the district an estimate of how many families plan to enroll their children in distance learning full time even if the hybrid model is an option.

Ultimately, Seifert said the district will have a more solid plan in place by Aug. 10. The administration will communicate with families and post updates at tcu2905.us.

Le Sueur-Henderson

In a letter to families, Le Sueur-Henderson Superintendent Marlene Johnson said that the district would continue to work on finalizing plans for in-person, hybrid and distance learning. Currently, no model has been decided upon and no models have been ruled out.

“We are determining if we have staff available to run the various modules first. Then, we will look at the data provided by MDH to determine outbreaks,” said Johnson.

Board directors, administration, or a combination of both, along with the Minnesota Department of Health, would be tasked with determining a model. On Monday, Johnson said that the School Board would determine who would be involved in the decision making at the Aug. 3 meeting. This week’s edition of Le Sueur County News was published before the meeting. Check for updates at lesueurcountynews.com.

Johnson said that she hopes to receive data from teachers and direction from the School Board this week in order to make a decision by the end of next week. However, the model the district chooses could change in the future if COVID-19 case numbers in Le Sueur County shift.

Parents who want their children to learn from home may fill out an optional distance learning election form. Parents can opt-in at any time, but Superintendent Johnson said it would be helpful for the district to have those numbers early.

Cleveland

At Cleveland, administrators have reported that around 100 pages in planning had been written to prepare for in-person, hybrid or distance learning. Plans are not finalized,but Superintendent Brian Phillips reported in the week previous that details would likely be published a week after the state guidance. The School Board expects to discuss the options and make a decision at its Aug. 10 meeting.

Responses

Republicans and some school officials had pressed Walz to leave reopening plans up to individual districts, arguing that local administrators know best how to protect students.

The guidance comes as coronavirus cases have been moving upward in some parts of the state. Minnesota reported 745 new cases on Thursday — slightly higher than the seven-day average — and five new deaths. State officials have warned of rising hospitalizations, but that number dipped slightly in Thursday’s data.

State health and education officials last month asked school districts to prepare for three scenarios: in-person learning for all students, distance learning as in the spring, or a hybrid learning scenario with social distancing and capacity limits.

President Donald Trump has pressed schools nationwide to open for in-person learning, and as many teachers have expressed fears of doing so. Education Minnesota, the state teachers’ union, last week released a survey with just one in five teachers supporting in-person learning.

Administrators for Minneapolis Public Schools, one of the largest districts in the state, said Tuesday they plan to start the school year Sept. 8 with distance learning. Their plan would require remote learning as the primary method of instruction, though buildings would remain open for tutoring, technology and mental health support for students and families.

Walz ordered Minnesota public and charter schools to close and switch to distance learning in mid-March as COVID-19 cases began to appear in the state, affecting nearly 900,000 students and their families. As the number of coronavirus cases in Minnesota grew, the governor extended the closure through the school year and prohibited large-scale high school and college graduation ceremonies.