Sumner taking first steps to open on July 28

Published 7:01 am Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Sumner Elementary was front and center at Monday afternoon’s Austin Public Schools Board meeting.

With just under two weeks to go, Sumner, which is on the 45/15 schedule, will be the first school in Austin to fully be back in session and could stand as an example of how the rest of the schools return to operation.

Superintendent David Krenz reported that Sumner’s opening, on July 28, will be going by summer guidelines currently in place after the district received word from the Minnesota Department of Education.

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Those guidelines include individual rooms within the school to be limited to 50 percent capacity at any one time, social distancing in place and buses running at 50 percent capacity. To help accommodate that, Krenz said two large rooms within the school will be converted into classroom space.

“We’re converting the library into a learning suite and the old auditorium into a learning suite,” Krenz said.

Woodson, which is also on a summer schedule, is currently running, but it has just one student section going, so there is more than enough space to meet those guidelines.

The plan in place was based in part on a survey sent out to families that reflected 70 percent of parents would send their kids back to school.

“Considering those numbers and space, I believe we can bring all those students back,” Krenz said.

The internal district survey reflects similar findings of a survey by the Minnesota Department of Education last week that showed a majority of parents were okay with sending their students back to school.

At the same time, the district will have to provide distance learning to those families that choose to have their children remain at home.

However, despite the district having a plan for Sumner, what those plans for the rest of the district look like are still up in the air and depends on which of three models the MDE plans to go with.

Those three plans included:

• All students return to school buildings following CDC/MDH guidelines.

• Students return using a hybrid model (in-person/distance learning) following CDC/MDH guidelines.

• No students return, implement distance learning model.

MDE has said that it will not release which model it is going with until the week of July 27, leaving districts in a sort of planning limbo as the school year quickly encroaches.

“We’re recognizing the idea of opening Sumner is the bridge to the rest of the district opening based on whatever direction we’re given (by MDE),” said Executive Director of Educational Service John Alberts. “The notion of this being a model is not really on the table, but more let’s get Sumner up and running based on the calendar.”

It’s not a given that that’s how Sumner will carry through the year. Depending on what route the MDE chooses, Sumner could find itself adapting to the plan the district adopts based on how the MDE opens up the state’s schools.

Even if Sumner can continue on its 45/15 schedule, there still may be changes based on the logistics of the district, including things like bussing.

Nevertheless, families and students are going to find a much different scenario in terms of how the school year starts up as opposed to how it ended this past year in terms of distance learning.

It likely would include a shift to daily attendance and a change of grading to something closer to how grades were before the pandemic took a hold.

“Distance learning will be different for students and families,” Alberts stressed.

Should the state adopt the hybrid model, then that could create other issues, including how the students will be taught, whether they are in the classroom or through distance learning.

“We cannot ask that teacher to be doing both in person and distance learning,” Krenz said after the question was poised by Board Member Peggy Young. “Another teacher or teachers will be assigned to distance learning.”

On the other side are teachers and staff and how the school would prepare for the safety of all. Director of Human Resources Mark Raymond said despite some of the concerns, more than half of those staff that have returned another in-district survey, 56 percent, said they have no concerns returning given the plans in place, while 18 percent have a concern.

Truth and taxation

The board has set for 6 p.m. or later on Monday, Dec. 14, to hold its truth and taxation hearing for the coming year, as part of the regular school board meeting.