On Thursday afternoon Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz alongside Lieutenant Gov. Peggy Flanagan and other Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education officials announced their plan for students to return safely back to school this fall.

There are three model options school districts can choose from, in-person learning, distance learning or a hybrid of the two. Experts will work with schools to help figure out what model will work best for the district to start the school year. The decisions made will be influenced by the level of COVID-19 activity within the community.

Both Blooming Prairie and Medford school districts will wait until mid- to late-August to officially announce which of the three models they will begin the school year with. This will ensure the decision is based upon the most recent COVID-19 data.

“We will wait until later for data,” Medford Superintendent Mark Ristau said. “In the meantime we will still prepare for all three models, obviously depending on what the end of August dictates as far as confirmed cases in Steele County.”

Ristau says a COVID-19 committee of stakeholders and administrators formed to help plan for the various models for the upcoming school season. They’ve met for the last four weeks, according to Ristau.

“Primarily focusing on the hybrid at this time, simply because we believed that that was the one most difficult to plan for,” he said of the group’s work.

Because of the school’s past experience with distance learning in the spring, he feels comfortable with the model, plus some tweaks come this fall. He also feels comfortable that Medford schools will have access to the necessary PPE (personal protective equipment) and safety protocols needed for in-person learning.

Blooming Prairie school district also formed a committee of parents, students, staff and community members to review potential plans for a safe start to school. The committee has met for the last couple of months, according to Blooming Prairie Superintendent Chris Staloch. The school board, teaching staff and school staff have reviewed the ideas and plans the committee has come up with.

“We are narrowing down the direction that we are headed,” Staloch said. “The big piece now is, we just did a survey with staff, we were going through those results. On Monday we are going to send out a survey to our parents about all three of the models and then we’ll land on an official decision later on.” Staloach says the goal for the decision is Aug. 13.

Ristau hopes to also have a decision made around that time.

Schools will have to remain flexible throughout the year. Depending on the local COVID-19 spread they may have to switch from one model to another. Ristau is confident in Medford schools ability to do so.

“You can’t necessarily prepare for that unless the transition is right in front of you, but I believe that we will have all the resources and tools necessary to make the changes when that time comes,” Ristau said.

“We want to create as much consistency for our families as possible,” Staloch said about any potential transitions from one model to another.

For now, the schools will have to pay close attention to the COVID-19 numbers within the counties and work with local health officials while they continue to plan.

Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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