Schools introduce ‘Return to learn’: North Branch lays out five-phase plan

Based on a recent survey sent out to North Branch Area Public School families, there is an “overwhelming” desire to send students back to in-person classrooms. And since both Chisago and Isanti Counties are well within the Minnesota Department of Health and Department of Education’s formula of positive COVID tests, that is exactly what the district plans to do, but at the same time keeping an eye on other options if the situation worsens.

In a slide presentation posted on the district’s website, the district presented a five-phase approach to teaching students in the upcoming school year. These phases range from a “best case scenario” of in-person instruction with no restrictions - just like school days of previous years (phase 1) to a “worse case scenario” of returning to 100% Distance Learning similar to last April and May. According to the district, these five phases were created to provide for a smooth transition from one phase to another at any time during the school year, if/when it is needed based on an increase or decrease in positive COVID tests in the area.

Beginning in ‘phase 2’

The North Branch School Board, during their Aug. 13 regular meeting, is expected to approve starting the school year in “Phase 2.” This phase includes adjusted school day schedules, flexible drop-off and pick-up times, student transportation with restrictions, no large gatherings (i.e. school assemblies), plus other adjustments in daily routines to allow for extra cleaning and personal hygiene habits.

The biggest change this phase entails is the altering of school schedules. Depending on the grade, the school day will begin and end at differing times, while still providing the same total length of time in school, which is shortened from previous years.

“School schedules have been modified to adhere to safety protocols, to allow staff to connect virtually with absent students and to allow pivoting between the levels as needed based on local public health data,” one of the slides read.

•Preschool:Half-day sessions would be 9:20 a.m. to 11:40 a.m. and 12:20 to 2:40 p.m. An all-day session from 9:20 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. is also offered.

•Kindergarten and Grade 1: 9:20 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. Additionally, 1st Grade classrooms are being moved from the Sunrise Elementary building to the newly-expanded Education Center.

•Grades 2 - 5: 9:05 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. at Sunrise Elementary School.

•Grades 6 - 8: 9:20 a.m. to 2:40 p.m. at the Middle School. 

•Grades 9 - 12:9:10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. at the High School. Additionally, while students in the other grades who don’t take the bus must be picked up no later than a half-hour after classes end, high school students have the flexibility to stay after school to study in designated spaces or for extra-curricular activities.

Online classes offered

As part of the MDE’s mandates, all schools who are conducting some form of in-person classes must provide families the option of some form of five-day “Distance Learning” if families are uncomfortable sending their kids back to in-person classrooms. For NBAPS, that comes in the form of “Distance Learning Academy.” These classes will be taught by different teachers than in-person classes, but will be fully accredited, using coursework compiled by Edmentum.

Parents can register their kids for “Distance Learning Academy” before the school year begins on Sept. 8. Once classes begin, parents of secondary grade students can only switch between the two options at the trimester breaks. Elementary grade students can switch at any point during the school year, however a parent-school conference will be required.

Transportation

According to the district, “mitigating the risk of spreading the virus is most difficult on buses.” Because of that, families are now required to sign up for being transported to/from school via busing. In addition, the drop-off and pick-up windows have been expanded, but with a more concrete deadline for picking up students after school in order to minimize kids congregating on school grounds unattended. Safety protocols, such as face coverings will be followed on the buses, and there will be as minimal use of transfer buses as possible.

Besides mandatory face coverings by everyone inside the school buildings, there are many other procedures and practices that will vary from building to building and classroom to classroom. Families will receive school-specific information on Aug. 17. Parents are also encouraged to contact their school building with questions and concerns. They can also view the entire “Return to learn” slide presentation, including specific details of each of the five phases, at the districts website at www.isd138.org.

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