Written By Emma Saxton
When the school shuts down there are many things that are considered. I had a chance to sit down with the school board chair person Ted Saxton, and had an in depth, personal conversation about what the school board considers when shutting down the school. Ted Saxton also provided insight about what the community can do to prevent the schools from closing. The most important advice he gave is to continue to follow the guidelines that the government releases.
When asked what factors influence the school board's decision to transition to full distance learning he responded that when they were originally going to close the school they had been advised to shut down the school when fifty out of ten thousand cases were in the Elementary school and thirty out of ten thousand were in the high school. Since then the school board has had a zoom conference with the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education and have now been advised to keep the schools open as long as they can still function. The schools are required to provide any necessary services, such as providing the students with lunch. The schools will stay open depending on who is sick, and whether these necessary services can be provided without them. If a certain number of students are sick the schools will also close, but there are not specific numbers the school needs to reach for this to happen. Currently the number of COVID-19 cases in the high school and elementary school are relatively low.
Mr. Saxton would like the students to know that the school board understands that the schools closing is not an ideal situation. There is still a very good chance that the school will shut down. Everyone is trying their best, and if you need help with anything to reach out to your teachers. They are doing whatever they can to help their students.
The Governor typically guides the Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education, and he is the only person with final authority. The Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education follow his guidance. The Governor typically gives autonomy to the school boards, because of the varying conditions in different parts of the state.
The School Board can shut down the school if they feel it is necessary as long as a majority of members believe that this is the right step to take. The school board rarely goes against the guidance of the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health, so the school board is not liable if an unexpected event occurs. Mr. Saxton usually likes to follow the guidance of the state, but currently the guidance is unclear about certain situations. They do not currently have any guidelines on when exactly the school needs to shut down, but the school board has been advised to keep the school open for as long as possible.
When the school shut down in March Mr. Saxton did not look at the student's grades. The school board does look at standardized test scores. There are standardized tests planned for the near future, but he is not expecting the students to be held accountable like they would be in a normal situation.
Mr. Saxton has seen a decline in student achievement for some distance learning students. This is partly due to students not having the same structure that there is in a classroom while at home. This is something that the school board is working on solutions for, and the school is currently taking a personalized approach to this problem. This includes reaching out to individual students and talking to them about the issues they may be facing. The principals, mental health professionals, guidance counselors, and teachers all play a vital role in this process.
The school recognizes that this is not a perfect situation. Many of the students who are struggling are having a difficult time during the weekdays they are at home instead of in the classroom. There are still many students who are doing fine while at home. The teachers are being lenient and understanding and are being very helpful to the students who reach out to them. It is extremely important to reach out to your teachers if you are having problems while at home or in person.
Mr. Saxton does not see the transition from hybrid learning to full distance learning as a big problem. This is because the students are already home for part of the week, and if they can work at home for two days they can also work from home for the rest of the week. When the school was going to shut down most recently the elementary students and their families were going to be given an extra week to sort out child care arrangements and technology issues.
To try to ensure that the schools can remain open Mr. Saxton thinks the community will need to do a better job taking the recommended precautions. The community needs to make sure to frequently wash their hands and properly wear a mask. The community also needs to make sure to only have small gatherings and to social distance. The guidelines the government releases should be followed to combat the spread of COVID-19 in our community.
When there is a COVID-19 case in the school the school can not disclose any information that could identify who that person may be. There is a strong working relationship between the hospital, school nurse, and school board. If you have been in contact with somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19 you will be notified.
When you walk into the school you immediately have your temperature taken and are screened for COVID-19 symptoms. Everything is being handled in a very cautious manner. You will never hear from an official channel who somebody is, and the only information the school can disclose is whether the case was in the high school or the elementary school.
Mr. Saxton would like the students to have honest conversations about the things they are doing in the school to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and that you want to be in school. Encourage people to do their part, even if it is hard to do. The only way to keep the school open is if the community plays their part, and follows the government guidelines.