‘An agonizing decision:’ District sets plan for back-to-school

Bemidji Area Schools have determined their back-to-school plan for this fall.

During their four-and-a-half-hour meeting last night, board members unanimously voted to send elementary students back to full in-person classes, and middle and high school students would use a hybrid model.

Two motions were withdrawn before the final motion was voted upon, as board members debated on whether to do hybrid for all, follow the state’s guidelines based on the new case rate, or hybrid for elementary and distance learning for secondary students.

Director of Curriculum Colleen Cardenuto emphasized that the board needed to make a decision so staff can set to work with creating a plan.

Cardenuto said the district is receiving guidance from Minnesota Department of Education, but the guidance is, for lack of a better term, vague, such as hybrid learning is “a teacher teaching, while 50 percent of the students are in the class and the other 50 percent are learning from home.”

Board Jeff Haack offered the motion for the in-person/hybrid base model, explaining that the childcare shortage in the area would make it difficult to find care for alternating weeks, and parents would likely have to pay for every week. Haack has a kindergartener, a third grader and a sixth grader in his family.

Board member Jeff Lind offered the second, and said the majority of the people he spoke with at his workplace were more in favor of in-person learning.

Special Education Director Alexis Wilde said logistically, hybrid is the most difficult option for elementary students.

School board members Ann Long Voelkner initially supported a hybrid for all model, but withdrew her motion.

Another factor the board considered were finances, as Business Director Chris Leinen pointed out.

The board also approved a mask policy which would be enforced like the dress code, and students who cited disability concerns to wearing a mask could opt for distance learning.

The school year will start September 14 to allow teachers and staff more time to plan for the upcoming year, but the makeup dates won’t be officially added at the end of the year until later, since additional missed student days due to COVID or snow are still possible.

Other items the board discussed:

  • Approval of placing the operating referendum on the ballot. For a homeowner with property value of about $100,000, the additional taxes would be about $45 per year voters say “yes” this November. The previous referendum authority was $180 per pupil, and the new one would be $460 per pupil. The tax would be first levied in 2020 for taxes payable in 2021 and applicable for 10 years unless otherwise revoked or reduced.
  • An update to the 2019-2020 Financial situation. The numbers will not be finalized until the audit takes place this Fall. According to Krisi Fenner, CPA, transportation and special education continue to be underfunded programs. Through the federal CARES Act, schools should receive funding to help offset increased costs due to COVID-19, but the district will still need to implement cost saving strategies and reductions wherever possible.
  • Approval of an agreement with Comprehensive Arts Planning Program (CAPP). This program, a collaboration with the Perpich Center for Arts Education, selected Bemidji Schools along with Columbia Heights, Minneapolis, Pine City, Proctor, South St. Paul, St. James and Yellow Medicine East. The program works to improve art programs across the state, guided by a vision of “Arts Education for All.”
  • Accepted a donation from Bill and Karen Hart.
  • Approved a resolution regarding transportation for extracurricular and co-curricular activities.
  • Approved a food service agreement with Aurora Waasakone Community Learning.

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