Hybrid it is for Tracy schools

TRACY AREA HIGH SCHOOL PRINCIPAL KATHY VONDRACEK made certain to measure the distance between all the tables that were set up in the Veterans Memorial Center gymnasium Monday morning. TAHS eighth-graders will use the VMC gym and an upstairs room above the police station during hybrid learning at the high school. Photos / Per Peterson

Upward trend in Lyon County COVID-19 cases forces school district to start year under hybrid learning guidelines

By Per Peterson

Back-to-school will look a little different this year, but Tracy Area Public Schools officials are doing their best to make things as close to normal as possible for all students — from the youngest of kindergarteners, to seniors who are thinking about their future after high school.

“You have to make a plan, then be ready to switch your plan,” said Tracy Area Elementary School Principal Michael Munson. “And then you need two or three other plans. It’s just kind of like a moving target that you’re trying to find.”

That target hasn’t stopped moving since mid-March when students were sent home to practice distance learning, a method of learning that has come under heavy scrutiny across the country. Schools have since had to put plans together for the upcoming year that range from all in-person learning, to all distance learning. In the middle, there’s hybrid. Late last week, the target moved again, and the school district responded by announcing Thursday that because of a recent increase in COVID-19 numbers and an anticipated increase this week, the high school will be in hybrid mode to open the school year.

Learning models were released in July that gave schools a roadmap to follow to determine how to proceed with the upcoming school year. The data used to determine what learning scenario can be used are the number of cases by county of residence in Minnesota over two weeks per 10,000 people by date of testing.  On Aug. 10, the District No. 2904 School Board approved an amended resolution of adoption of the Base Learning Model that allows in-person learning at the elementary school, and hybrid learning for grades 7-12 (those students would attend school all day, every day, with some in possible alternate locations to keep capacity limits below 50% and meet social distancing requirements).

The hybrid scenario that had been planned and approved last Friday by the district’s Rapid Response Team, is in-person at the elementary and at the high school, expect for eighth-graders, who will go to school at the VMC (lunches will be delivered to them). Students in grades 7, 9, 10, 11 and 12 will be in the school building all day, every day but the school will limit the overall number of people in classrooms to 50% maximum occupancy by using large rooms; sufficient social distancing with at least 6 feet in between people will occur at all times, and bus routes might have altered times to reduce capacity (and/or parents could be asked to transport their student(s).

TAHS Supt. Chad Anderson said the committee “decided to take a defensive posture by moving into this scenario which will hopefully allow for sustainability of students in school every day for as long as possible. As we said from the beginning, we are confident we can get our students back in school, but keeping them in the building will be the challenging part.”

Anderson said the district feels that moving to this scenario will adhere to the MDH guidelines; keep all students in school every day, but with a shortened day; give the best opportunity to keep everyone in school as long as possible because of added safety protocols of social distancing and capacity limits in TAHS classrooms and on buses; and give all teachers additional time to prepare for the new schedules rather than waiting until next Thursday to make the decision.

A total of 85 students will distance learn to begin the school year. A survey was sent out earlier this summer to give the school district a feel of where parents are with certain issues, including how they feel about sending their children back to school during the pandemic. Families who choose to keep their student at home can still purchase lunches, but will have to pick them up at their respective school.

The school district has partnered with “Educere” to provide ready-made digital content for teaching and learning of basic district core classes. Parents who choose this option will be required to commit to this choice for the entire semester. This option is not taught with TAPS teachers, but students who go this route will be considered TAPS students and can participate in all TAPS activities. Anderson said he respects the decision of all families when it comes to the upcoming school year.

Because so many parents have volunteered to bring their kids to school and the fact that there are 85 students option to use “Educere,” all buses will be under 50% capacity.

See this week’s Headlight Herald for more on this article.