Northfield Community Education continues to offer summer programming despite significant logistical challenges posed by COVID-19.

In an update to the Northfield School Board Monday night, Community Education Director Erin Bailey said recreation and enrichment activities follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Minnesota Department of Health guidelines by limiting classroom occupancy to a maximum of 10 people. For aquatics activities, only private or household lessons are allowed. If children are taking lessons at a pool, instructors are allowed to teach from a deck.

A majority of programming and all facility use rentals started July 6.

Outdoor activities take place in pods and are spread out over the length of a football field. At the end of June, adult softball leagues began on a limited basis. A maximum of 25 people can be on a field at a time, and spectators cannot use the bleachers.

Bailey said more than 100 children enrolled in Summer Plus and Summer Blast, two Community Education programs intended to support academic achievement and enrichment.

Driver’s education courses were held virtually earlier in the pandemic. Since the order limiting instruction to a virtual format was lifted, learners can now drive with their instructors by wearing masks and gloves. Only one student and driver is allowed at a time, and sanitation takes place between each session.

Northfield Early Childhood Family Education has moved to a solely online format as a way to prevent younger children from breaking social distancing guidelines. Virtual camps take place on a daily basis via Zoom.

Early childhood screening has been on hold since March. At this point, no screening is expected until the end of August. Community Education is finalizing the decision on a timeline to resume the school readiness program Bridges to Kindergarten and transitions home visits based on the learning format the district adopts for this fall.

Last month, Gov. Tim Walz and MDH recommended districts either prepare for a fully-in-person learning experience, exclusive distance education, or a combination of the two. A final recommendation is expected later this month.

Any unavailable Community Education programming remains so either out of a personal choice, or because organizers were unable to meet CDC and DOH guidelines. Still more couldn’t be financially viable with reduced attendance.

School Board member Tom Baraniak suggested Bailey record the steps she is taking now to prepare for any future adverse situation.

Openings pose challenges

Bailey noted Community Education keeps a supply of hand sanitizer and oversees constant health screening for participants. At the child care site, temperature checks are taken each day, and children are monitored.

At Kid Ventures, such checks are for anyone entering the building. For most activities, participants take home health screenings and are asked if someone in their household has had COVID-19 symptoms within the last 72 hours.

The district’s child care center at Longfellow School has been open since June 10. Conference rooms are being used to spread the children out. To combat any risks inside the child care facility, employees clean bathrooms twice a day.

Bailey noted in most cases staff who need to be kept at home due to COVID-19 concerns have been working in a child care setting. Some child care employees took leaves of absence starting in March, while others are coming back to work.

Because of that, Community Education needs to keep a deeper staffing pool, creating financial complications. Those challenges could pose further problems when summer substitute teachers find full-time work this fall.

“The bottom line is, it’s hard, it’s really hard to make that break even,” Bailey said.

“I don’t have an answer on how the timeline looks except not very pretty.”

Bailey noted there is no social distancing guidance that is developmentally appropriate for children under the age of 5. Community Education will begin requiring face shields at Early Ventures as a safety measure and to allow children to see teacher reactions.

Reach Associate Editor Sam Wilmes at 507-645-1115. © Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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