The Redwood Area Board of Education sat on the stage of the Estebo Performing Arts Center Monday night (Aug. 24) facing a crowd there to learn what model(s) it would approve for the new school year.
At the end of the discussion, with allowances for those who attended to share their thoughts during the open forum portion of the meeting, the board voted 4-3 to move forward with a plan that will have students in Kindergarten through the sixth grade in-person every day, with those in Grades 7-12 learning under a hybrid model that will have them in school at least two days each week on a consistent schedule that will also include in-person attendance every other Friday.
On the days when students are not in school they will be required to participate in their classes but in a distance learning setting.
The current hybrid plan is in place starting with the first day of school, and following a trial period the board will again consider its plan. Should it opt to make a change, that would become effective Oct. 5 at the earliest.
Wayne Junker, school board member and retired Redwood Area School District educator, pointed out that as a former educator he understands just how important it is for the establishment of the relationship between teacher and student, adding it is in those first few weeks of the school year that the connection between them develops.
While he recognized the importance of those first weeks of the school year, Junker also recognized the decision being made that night was based on a new emotion as a school board member – fear. Junker admitted that he fears for the safety of the kids and the adults in the school district, adding, from his perspective, education is important but protecting people is of even greater importance.
Members of the public recognized the board’s position. They admitted it was not going to be an easy decision for the board.
Yet, many also felt the better option was to have all of the students in-person from the start of the year. They argued that there was already an option available for parents who wanted to keep their children home, adding anyone who wanted to could opt for distance learning.
Their question was why they as parents who wanted their children to be in school could not have that choice.
Other arguments indicated a feeling that once the hybrid model was enacted that it would remain in place for the entire year.
There were also admissions of anxiety from members of the public about the reality of COVID-19, and they encouraged the board to exercise caution.
Board chair Jim Boots expressed his appreciation to the individuals who spoke, as well as to those who sent e-mails and letters to the board expressing their thoughts on the issue.
Boots added every day he is looking at the numbers from the Minnesota Department of Health related to the number of cases of COVID-19, adding the numbers at this point still look good.
Yet, he added, everyone knows that could change quickly.
Board member Clark Grannes indicated that he thought if the district could do in-person for the students in Kindergarten through the sixth grade, it ought to be an option for Grades 7-12, too.
Board member, Tim Joyce indicated that he felt it was important for the school district to start slow.
Junker added from his perspective that if even one student or one staff member would come down with COVID-19 based on a decision he made that would bother him the rest of his life.
In the end Junker, Joyce, Darin Prescott and JoDee Altmann voted in favor of the plan, with Boots, Grannes and Jim Buckley voting against.
In other action during its Aug. 24 meeting, the school board:
• Approved the transportation contract with Thielen Bus Lines for the 2020-21 school year, which includes a 1 percent increase. The base contract is for $737,948.13.
• Accepted the resignations of Laurie Ourada from her position as an elementary school paraprofessional; Randy Maland from his role as an assistant tennis coach; Holly Schmitt from her role as an RVMS/HS Indian education teacher and Shelley Mammen from her role as an elementary school paraprofessional.
• Approved the employment of David Helsper as a member of the RVMS/HS Indian education program staff for 200 days and eight hours per day at an hourly rate of $19 and Sydney Bladon as a middle school paraprofessional for 178 days and 6.75 hours per day at an hourly rate of $14.42.