The first day of instruction for Northfield Public Schools students has been pushed back nearly a week to allow for family conferences as the district transitions into an uncertain 2020-21 school year caused by COVID-19.

The meetings, slated for Sept. 8-11, will allow families to discuss the impacts they’ve seen from the pandemic and describe any possible barriers to in-person instruction or a distance learning format. Administrators hope the meetings will allow families to gain a better understanding of the technology their students will use.

“It’s going to be an extremely valuable time,” said School Board Chair Julie Pritchard. She added another goal of the conferences is to ensure families understand teachers will support their students regardless of the learning format. She noted elementary school principals spoke of the success students and parents shared in closing conferences conducted at the end of the 2019-20 school year and subsequent additional chances for student summer learning.

“We do support every student, and I think we are showing it by saying literally we are going to connect with every student,” Pritchard said.

In announcing his recommendation to delay the start of the school year prior to unanimous School Board approval Monday night, Superintendent Matt Hillmann said the shift would reduce the number of school contact days from 174 to 170. He sees the benefits of having conferences as making up for any negative impacts the delay could cause. Hillmann added the district already had nine more instructional days than the minimum number allowed by the state.

The district expects to announce the initial 2020-21 fall learning form next Monday. Currently, the district, along with other schools throughout the state, is unsure of this fall’s learning format. The three possible learning scenarios include exclusively in-person instruction, a hybrid option of in-person and distance learning, or an exclusively distanced format. The current COVID-19 infection rate per 10,000 people, considered the state standard on the preferred learning model, qualifies Northfield Public Schools for in-person learning for elementary students and a hybrid format for secondary students.

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

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