Aitkin School

At the Oct. 19 Aitkin School Board meeting, the board and Superintendent Dan Stifter discussed how possible switches in learning models should be handled.

Stifter said that the district is in contact with Aitkin County Public Health on average of at least every other day, and that switches could happen quickly.

“It (can happen) in a short, short time,” Stifter said late last week following the meeting.

McGregor School District has already had one shift to remote learning – at the elementary school level – at the start of October. That was due to one staff member testing positive. Due to the large number of other staff members that came in contact with that person, the elementary school could not find enough substitute teachers.

All three Aitkin County school districts – Aitkin, Hill City and McGregor – said Friday they remained in full, in-person learning.

However, Aitkin got an unofficial test of quick switch Oct. 22, as Stifter announced that the schools would be closed for in-person learning due to expected snow.

While the snow didn’t live up to its billing, Stifter said having the remote option for students and switching to it for the day made his decision easier.

“We encouraged (students) to bring materials and devices home,” Stifter said.

Right now, there is an acute awareness of what board chair Cindi Hills said was families “choosing to do what’s best for their students.”

Aitkin is down 35 students this year, 34 of which are parents choosing to home school their students due to the pandemic. The district also has 168 students now on remote learning, and 30 in quarantine due to a case at the high school.

But Stifter stressed at the board meeting that there hasn’t been spread at the schools.

“I think that tells us a couple of things,” Stifter said, pointing out that cleaning protocols are working, people are social distancing and mask wearing is effective.

“I truly believe the safest place for our kids to be every day is in our building,” Stifter said.

Numbers are creeping up in the county, the state and the country. Someone at the meeting said it was “a matter of time” before the district would be forced to shift learning models. Aitkin County is actually sitting at 27.16 cases per 10,000 people as of Oct. 22, but that number is two weeks behind the actual case load, and is advisory only.

The positivity rate in Aitkin County, according to Stifter, was a bit over 3%, indicating that the county was still in decent shape. However, the school board agreed it was time to make plans.

What procedure the district would follow remained up in the air after the meeting. There was talk about forming a committee, while school board member Dennis Hasskamp said he hoped the district would just “pull the trigger.”

However, the board eventually decided to call an emergency meeting if the district looked like it would have to make a switch.

LEVY MEETING DRAWS FEW

A Zoom meeting held Oct. 20 for the district’s Capital Project Levy had a low turnout, as Stifter and other district staff and school board members were most of the the attendees.

“I thought we’d have more,” said Stifter, adding that the low turnout could indicate a lack of interest, that people already had enough information to make a decision, or had voted already.

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