Kids will be going back to school this fall, but how many days they’re at school will depend on whether they attend the elementary school or middle and high school. On Aug. 17, the Tri-City United School Board approved in-person/hybrid learning plans for students.
A 4-3 majority on the School Board approved a learning plan which includes in-person learning for students pre-K-6 and hybrid learning for grades 7-12.
In the in-person model, elementary students will report to school every day with a number of added safety precautions. Distancing 6 feet apart will not be mandatory, but students will be reminded to be aware of social distancing. Mask will still be mandatory under state executive order, and other safety measures, such as staggered dismissals, multiple entrances and exits and more frequent cleanings, will be implemented.
Students will stay in the same classroom for most subjects, such specialized courses like art, music and technology. Rather than students traveling to different classes, teachers will come to their students. Physical education is an exception, and the school plans to have P.E. courses outside as much as possible or in the gymnasium.
“It’s normal school with a lot of safety measures being taken,” said Superintendent Lonnie Seifert. “Otherwise, it’s pretty normal.”
Grades 7-8 will be separated into two groups on a five-period block schedule under a hybrid model. One group would attend school in person every Monday and Wednesday, while the other group would attend every Tuesday and Thursday. When not in school, students will be distance learning from home. On Fridays, the groups would alternate schedules so that each group is in the building every other Friday. Groups will be broken up in such a way that students in blended families will be attending school on the same days.
High school students in grades 9-12 will also be split up into two groups under a hybrid model. Like the middle school, groups will be in school on either Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday while alternating Fridays. The 7 period class schedule will remain the same and students that require special services may receive individualized schedules.
The hybrid model will come with some minor changes to class spaces. Study halls will be combined in the commons to allow one teacher to watch multiple study halls. ESL will be moved to the choir room and choir and band classes will be relocated to allow for 12 feet of social distancing. Art classes will remain in the same room, but the room will be restructured to allow for proper social distancing.
Distance learning is an option for those who request it, but because TCU teachers are faced with a full schedule, full distance learning would be managed by an online facilitator, chosen from TCU staff, and instruction would come from a private company hired by the school. For the whole year, a class of 23 students in 12 classes each would cost the school $20,000. Classes would be specialized to reflect TCU curriculum, and students enrolled in the program would still be considered TCU students. The district has requested that families that opt for distance learning commit to nine weeks of it.
Reactions to the learning plan by the TCU School Board were mixed. Krista Goettl expressed her preference for an all hybrid model, rather than moving elementary students into in-person learning because of the unpredictability of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I’m still leaning toward the hybrid for all with the understanding that there are so many unknowns out there,” said Goettl. “I appreciate all the work that went into all the planning; there is just something in my gut that says, ‘Why would we go to that right away if we know that it’s going to make us go back to distance learning?’”
Ashley Rosival expressed similar concerns. Rosival noted that, in a survey, 90% of parents were comfortable with hybrid learning over distance learning, and Rosival believed that a hybrid model could do significantly more to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“If I were a staff member, and I had to manage masks, I had to teach hand hygiene, I had to distance, I had to manage that with 30 plus students, not to say it couldn’t be done, I just think the risks are much higher when you have a higher number,” said Rosival. “If it were halved, I think that mitigates some of the risk. You would have more time to focus on those kids.”
Other members of the board expressed confidence in the in-person elementary model. School Board Chair Marsha Franek believed that it was important for students to have the consistency provided by an in-person model.
“I feel that we need to get these kids in school, we need to have some stability and knowing that things can change in a week or two’s time, we can fall back on our hybrid plan,” said Franek. “I think our numbers allow us to do what we need to do, and our admin team is confident in our staff to do what we need to do and do it well.”
Kevin Huber also supported the in-person learning for elementary students, noting that families did not have to attend school in person if they felt uncomfortable.
“In my opinion, we can’t let the unknowns direct our path,” said Huber. “You have to keep in mind that whatever decision we make tonight is what we’re offering, but parents still have the option to choose distance learning.”
The learning plan was passed on a narrow 4-3 vote with Michelle Borchardt, Kevin Huber, Josh Buelke and Marsha Franek supporting the plan and Krista Goettl, Ashley Rosival and Dale Buss voting against.
Children ages 4 to 7 itching to participate in a sport might consider hitting the ice.
TCU hockey just began its recruitment process with the season beginning Oct. 1. Registration is free for new skaters (Mini Mites, Mites and Squirts) and families can rent the equipment for free with a check deposit. As far as numbers go, the organization hasn’t placed a cap.
“It’s a ‘the more the merrier’ situation,” said Nicole Jacobs, parent and TCU Hockey Board member. “We have a ton of Mini Mites, which is great because they can keep going. Our team is really young this year, and that’s fabulous.”
The team needs to take precautions this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. A designated COVID-19 person will ensure everyone on the ice is safe and healthy, and only one parent will be allowed on the ice at a time.
But this year also marks a more exciting change for TCU hockey players: the completion of the Trcka Park outdoor hockey rink. The rink is still in the construction process but will be ready for use before the TCU hockey season ends in March.
Like previous years, the team will begin outdoor practices in Montgomery and switch to the indoor rink at Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault during colder weather. Jacobs said the Shattuck rink will remain the team’s indoor practice spot even after the outdoor rink in Lonsdale is completed, but the hope is that the team has many opportunities to practice locally.
Families need to commit to an average of two practices per week, sometimes a third on the weekends. Jacobs said coaches understand children are in school during the season and try to schedule practices fairly.
Parents of skaters also commit to a fundraiser around Thanksgiving, which involves selling holiday wreaths. All parents are expected to contribute volunteer hours in one form or another, whether that means driving skaters to games, distributing wreaths, or serving on the board.
About 15 families have children enrolled in TCU hockey, and Jacobs considers that small number a big reason for choosing TCU.
“The coaches know each kid personally and well,” Jacobs said. “It’s a small group; I feel like the one on one connection with the coaches are really there.”
Coaches complete annual CPR training and background checks. Jacobs said they work with each child as though they are the only ones on the ice. She appreciates that they worked with her son Owen, who has autism, to overcome his fear of the buzzer.
“He loves it,” Jacobs said of Owen. “We tried other sports and they’ve been so-so, but he lives and breathes for hockey now. I can’t imagine him playing for someplace else.”
Lonsdale Area Food Shelf clients haven’t stepped inside the facility in over five months, but that’s about to change the first week of September.
Starting Thursday, Sept. 3, clients have the option to select their own food items again after receiving curbside pickup meal boxes since mid-March. Each Thursday, clients who register in advance may browse the food shelf during a scheduled 15-minute time slot. This will prevent clients from coming into contact with one another so they can safely shop amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
LAFS Executive Director Tami Heimer already began handing out flyers to clients and released the official notice on Aug. 17. One day later, she said three clients already registered for the upcoming service. As long as health and safety measures allow, Heimer said the food shelf will continue the client choice model until further notice.
“Although the curbside pickup method went fine, the feedback we received from some of the clients was they really preferred choosing their own food,” Heimer said “ … You don’t know what to put in the boxes, and we want the families to receive what they’ll need.”
Channel One Regional Food Bank in Rochester, the food provider for LAFS, recommended the switch to the curbside pickup model as a safe alternative during the pandemic. Most meals were prepackaged and included dairy products, frozen meat entrees and nonperishable food items.
In addition to giving clients more choices in their food selection, the new model will reduce the workload for volunteers, who needed to bring the boxed food to clients’ vehicles each Thursday. Heimer said the behind-the-scenes work of restocking shelves will resume as usual, but not during client shopping slots. The food shelf is too small for volunteers and clients to share that space, she said.
With colder weather approaching, Heimer also wanted the food shelf to implement an indoor model with enough time to make necessary adjustments to the procedure before winter.
The 13 time slots available each Thursday should allow enough opportunities for clients to browse, she said, considering most clients visit the shelf every four weeks.
Each client will be screened with temperature checks and use hand sanitizer before entering the facility, and a timer will sound after 15 minutes of shopping. Volunteers will sanitize the shelves between slots to prepare for the next client.
Clients may book appointments online at lonsdaleareafoodshelf.org or leave a message at the food shelf’s number, (507)744-5399, and wait for Heimer or a volunteer to return the call.