Gov. Tim Walz ordered Minnesota K-12 schools to close for eight daays beginning Wednesday, March 18, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but Belle Plaine School District leaders are anticipating schools across the country will remain closed for the rest of this school year.
Some schools across the region have already held mock graduation ceremonies for their seniors, as it becomes less and less likely they will be able to reconvene for traditional ceremonies.
“They haven’t said whether we will be back to school on March 30, but there is a very real chance that we will not,” Belle Plaine Public Schools Superintendent Ryan Laager said.
As Minnesota’s colleges and universities switch to online learning and as some K-12 schools scramble to generate the virtual course material to carry lesson plans out to the summer, Belle Plaine waits, ready to implement its already cached online materials. If not for a restriction from the state level preventing districts from switching to online learning until March 30, Belle Plaine would have already begun virtual lessons full-time, according to Laager.
“We have tried to start earlier, but they want districts to wait,” Laager said, following the Belle Plaine School Board meeting Monday night, March 16.
The reason for the delay is to allow districts, whose teachers may not have libraries of course material prepared or whose students do not have access to devices, to catch up to the curve. To some extent, Belle Plaine has been prepared for a forced electronic learning interface for about three years, about the time when students in the district started being issued iPads.
Virtual or “distance” learning will no doubt have lasting impacts on how higher learning is carried out even after the COVID-19 pandemic passes, at least according to school board member Matt Lenz, who is choosing to see the positive side of the isolationist measures enacted by all levels of government.
“The silver lining in this is that it’s preparing our kids for the 21st century workplace,” Lenz said, stating that working from home was becoming a norm even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
Internet accessibility was among the major concerns for Belle Plaine’s district families since the district first announced e-learning days last year. Internet service providers Charter and Comcast have both offered 60 days of free internet for families with students and low-income households. The district has also distributed hotspots to families without reliable internet. K-2 students, who would not have otherwise been issued iPads, will also receive devices during the distance learning period. Parents should receive information regarding pickup windows.
With the closure of the district’s brick and mortar facilities, many may be wondering where to get vital services, like school lunches or mental health counseling which students would have received only through the district.
District mental health support providers will be working alongside Scott County experts to reach out to students virtually using Skype and Google Hangouts.
"We have a venue and an avenue to continue mental health support for our kids," Laager said.
Meals for Students
School-provided meals will continue to be offered on an opt-in basis and will be delivered to bus stops beginning Thursday, March 19, four hours after regularly scheduled bus stop times. In other words, if a bus picks up at 7 a.m. at a particular stop, a lunch will be available to those who signed up for it at around 11 a.m. Given that the lunch delivery will be a new, unplanned service offered by the district, there remains a chance for flexibility in times. The buses will make 182 general education and 12 special education stops. As of Monday evening, March 16, 21 students had requested lunches.
Only parents, guardians and children can pick up the meals. There will be only one meal package given to each child. If using the grab and go option at the high school, the expectation is to pick up the meal package and leave the school immediately. Children are also reminded to use extreme caution at the bus stops to ensure their safety. Fountain Park may be an additional stop for meal pickup.
Families who qualify for free/reduced meals will continue receiving them. Families who pay for their meals will have those costs deducted from their accounts.
The Belle Plaine Schools' backpack program will now be offered through the Belle Plaine Food Shelf at 128 N. Meridian St. in Belle Plaine. Food shelf hours are 5-7 p.m. on Wednesdays and 9:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. on Saturdays..
The survey to register for lunches can be found at https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSelqSa9W_9gTg2_fNbZoB49mLEVRsL_gZldVQ4xwFZcMZhDXw/viewform.
Parents are encouraged to pay attention to school emails and phone calls for important updates regarding school-provided services as the situation surrounding COVID-19 is likely to change on a weekly or daily basis.
District leaders will continue to follow Governor Walz's lead in their decision-making process.
All school-sponsored activities, including practices for sports teams, have been suspended until April.