Local schools ready to welcome students to classrooms this fall

Deb Moldaschel
Superintendent John Cselovszki posed outside the elementary school entrance to show the social distancing stickers (all six feet apart) placed on the sidewalk.

Last Thursday, when Governor Walz released his long-awaited plan for school reopening this fall, it was learned that individual school districts would be able to adopt their own plan, within certain guidelines and in consultation with local public health. The number one item in the guidelines was an equation for determining if the in-person, distance learning, or hybrid plan would be right for each school.

The Sleepy Eye Board of Education held a special meeting Thursday evening to hear Superintendent John Cselovszki’s report on where Sleepy Eye Public School fit into the plan. He presented the Learning Model Parameters — schools in counties with 0-9 COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people, over the past 14 days, could have in-person learning for all students; 10-19 cases called for in-person learning for elementary students and hybrid learning for secondary students; and more restrictive as the number went up.

For Brown County the equation yielded the number 10.71. Cselovszki said he’d talked with Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz and agreed with her that Sleepy Eye should adopt the in-person learning plan for pre-K through 6th grade and hybrid learning for grades 7 through 12. He said Moritz advised the three county school systems to adopt the same plan.

At Thursday’s school board meeting, the plan was approved by unanimous vote. Board member Casey Coulson remarked that he liked the state’s data-driven guidelines which help schools make their decision on how to start school.

For the Sleepy Eye district, the high school hybrid plan involves splitting the students into two groups and each will attend every other day and then work on assignments at home in between. All elementary students will be in school every day with social distancing as much as possible.

Cselovszki said all students and staff will wear face masks. He has ordered a supply of washable masks to have on hand for students who forget to bring one. These will be laundered at the school. In addition, Governor Walz announced the state will supply washable face masks for all students (including at private schools.)

The plan is quite detailed and can be found on the school district website: sleepyeyeschools.com. The first day of school at Sleepy Eye Public School is Monday, Aug. 24.

St. Mary’s Elementary Principal Mary Gangelhoff said the back to school plan is for all students (PreK-12) returning in-person on Tuesday, Aug. 25.

A school task force developed a detailed plan. Some of the protocols include: Desks spaced out in the classroom. Two separate Masses held on the same day. Grades 6-12 at 8:15 a.m. and K-5 at 2:10 p.m. Masking for grades K-12 and all staff as mandated. Protocols if a COVID-19 case is reported. Protocol for entrances and dismissal.

Gangelhoff said the plan, which includes much more than detailed above, will be reviewed with staff and then sent out to parents.

Josh Ohlmann, Principal at Grace Evangelical Lutheran School, said they are planning to start on Wednesday, Aug. 19 with in-person learning. “We have a large space with a small student body and are able to spread desks out,” he said. “Because the students will be wearing masks in school, we decided to try and ease that burden on them by shortening the school day slightly, to 8:30 to 3:00, and scheduling multiple outdoor breaks where the students can take off their masks.”

Ohlmann said they’ve also developed an opening plan outlining different social distancing measures that will be taken, procedures for if a student or staff member gets sick, and procedures for disinfecting the school.

Teachers at all Sleepy Eye schools are likely taking a close look at their classrooms right now to imagine how they can spread everyone out and enjoy a safe start to school — in just a few weeks!