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Ledyard education board approves overall return-to-school plan, to select model Tuesday

Ledyard — During a four-hour special meeting Wednesday, the Board of Education voted to approve the overall return-to-school plan but tabled the decision on the specific model to next week.

That vote will be held during another special meeting next Tuesday; the board wanted to meet Monday, but due to a town hall holiday Thursday and regular closure Friday, the meeting had to be moved to comply with public posting requirements.

The overall plan, which has been developed and adapted as new coronavirus safety guidance and input from staff comes in, was presented to families in a series of forums last week, with sessions held virtually and in-person for each school, as well as a districtwide meeting. It includes models for a full return to in-person instruction, full virtual learning, and a hybrid of the two; this model would have student cohorts in the building either Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday, leaving Wednesday for full online instruction and deep cleaning of the schools between groups.

For the options that involve physically coming to school, whether full or part time, parents can opt out and have their children participate in a modified online-only program. Those children would not be allowed to participate in extracurricular activities at their school, though they've already been canceled for kindergarten through eighth grade, and families must give at least a week's notice if they decide to send their students back in person. A survey of families in the district conducted before the plan was approved showed about 16% would opt for online-only education.

The plan also includes school-specific measures related to issues such as social distancing, isolation spaces and family support that change based on each building's layout and population. For example, hallways in the main classroom block at the high school will be one-way, with designated "up" and "down" stairwells, but classes in the agri-science, shop and gym wing will be released a few minutes early so students leaving those areas can avoid students going to classes in that wing. Similarly, elementary school students will stay in their classrooms for all subjects and lunch, and Unified Arts teachers will come to them for those lessons.

Questions from board members at the meeting Wednesday ranged from how grades and attendance will be assessed in models that involve virtual learning to how the schools will work with students and staff who can't wear masks for medical reasons or who refuse to do so.

In the absence of state guidance, the overall plan uses decision trees from Ledge Light Health District and the Minnesota Department of Health to determine who should isolate and for how long if a student or staff member develops symptoms of COVID-19. Superintendent Jay Hartling said the district is still waiting on information from the Department of Public Health on what level of infection would lead to quarantining a cohort or closing a school or the district, though the district also would work with Ledge Light in such a situation.

After voting on the plan, a motion to approve the hybrid model with the intent to reevaluate its success at the regular school board meeting on Sept. 16 failed on a 3-5 vote. Another motion to approve the full in-person model with a similar reevaluation period was retracted after board Chair Anthony Favry suggested they table the vote to give members more time to think through the decision.

a.hutchinson@theday.com

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