Exactly what area school districts will look like this fall when they come back – if they come back – remains to be seen.

On June 15, at least one member of the Aitkin School Board made it clear where he stood if school here was not allowed to resume as normal.

“It’s not acceptable,” said school board member Joe Ryan. “It’ll be detrimental to our district, as it will be to every district.”

Ryan’s reaction came a few hours after the Minnesota Department of Education released its plan to solicit information from each district on one of three options for the fall, due to COVID-19. Districts are being asked to review plans for returning in full, remaining on full distance learning – and a hybrid of the two options.

Aitkin Superintendent Dan Stifter said after the meeting that his impression from the state is that school districts will have decisions to return made on area COVID-19 case counts.

“From what I understand at this point, not every school district is going to start at the same point,” he said.

Aitkin County’s COVID-19 case total remained at 13 as of Monday, though health officials are still warning people to be cautious (see page A1).

The MDE is not expected to give guidance on the matter until July 25, which frustrated board members, as did the apparent lack of ability to make the decision for themselves.

Stifter said at the meeting that superintendents in the northeast portion of the state had drafted and sent a letter to the state, indicating that they wanted something other than a “one-size-fits-all” option.

Ryan said that he felt that anything other than a full return to the schools would have a poor impact on not only students, but teachers.

Board President Cindi Hills  said the district was expecting template guidelines from the state, while Ryan pointed out that the MDE was expecting the district to do all the work but then making the decision for them.

There were various criticisms of distance learning aired at the meeting. Ryan said he heard anecdotal stories of cheating, and called it “less than ideal” for students. Board member Dennis Hasskamp followed by saying, “I think distance learning is ridiculous.”

Stifter admited he was concerned that the district normally has the full summer to plan for the fall. In this case, with the MDE releasing information July 25, the district will only have a few weeks, which led to Ryan’s statement of unacceptability.

The discussion moved to the placement of a survey on the district’s website, which was eventually approved. Hills wanted to wait on feedback from the district before contacting the MDE further, but was voted down 4-1, and a second communication is ready to be sent.

The survey placed on the district’s website at home.isd1.org is seeking feedback from households.

“As the Minnesota Department of Education works closely with the Minnesota Department of Health to plan for the 2020-21 school year, we want to hear from families about their experience with the distance learning this spring,” reads the post on the website.

“This feedback is extremely valuable to us. This information will allow us to help families as they balance the responsibilities of work and family, while also supporting student learning.”

The survey is available here in English, Hmong, Somali, and Spanish, and will close June 30.

Editor's note: 

In the initial story on the Aitkin School Board meeting last week, two errors were made.

Aitkin Superintendent Dan Stifter said that some district superintendents in the area are reporting a potential 20 % drop in students, but he is unable to verify that information – either as it applies to Aitkin or the surrounding area.

Also, the letter sent to the Minnesota Department of Education was send by superintendents from the northeast region, not specifically from Stifter.

The Age apologizes for the errors.

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