The Perham-Dent School Board held a special board meeting to discuss the plans for the start of the 2020-21 school year. A decision on how the start of the school year was not made at this meeting but will be decided at the regular school board meeting planned for 1 p.m. Friday, Aug. 14.

The district is looking at having an extremely fluid year as they will need to be ready to change between the three learning models as COVID-19 case numbers change in the county. Instructions on how to proceed with the plans were laid out for school districts in the state’s Safe Learning Plan for 2020-21, which prioritizes safety from infection and spreading of the virus while keeping as much in-person learning as possible, especially for younger learners.

The first week of school, before Labor Day, will likely be used as an orientation week so that students and families will be able to learn how the school year and all its learning models work. Families are encouraged to have plans in place to handle sudden changes to situation at any of the schools.

The Safe Learning Plan has five steps to help determine what the safe learning model is for each district. The plan’s steps say that districts will:

  1. Consult the Minnesota Department of Health learning model selection parameters as indicted by county-level data to determine the base learning model.

  2. Consult with health officials as needed to examine the local epidemiology behind county-level data to assess whether an increase or higher numbers of cases are likely the results of isolated outbreaks or whether they may be indicative of more widespread community transmission.

  3. Evaluate the ability to implement required and recommended health best practices to inform decision-making at the school or district level.

  4. Determine the learning model to begin the school year.

  5. Monitor the community and school-level impact of COVID-19 on a regular basis in consultation with public health to determine if adjustments are needed.

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The decisions about which model the school district needs to be based on the current county data and health recommendations will not be made by the school board but by the Incident Command Team. The team will be made up by the district Superintendent Mitch Anderson, Principal Ehren Zimmerman, Principal Scott Bjerke, Principal Liz Johnson, the presidents from both the teachers and support staff unions, Facilities Director Russ Winkels, Activities Director Erin Anderson, Kristi Wentworth from Otter Tail County Public Health, and three members of the school board; Cyndy Huber, Aaron Kalina, and Sue Von Ruden.

In both, the all in-person and hybrid learning models all students, staff, and visitors will be required to wear a mask unless they have a doctor’s note that states that they cannot. External groups that would normally come into the schools will be limited or not permitted in the school for the 2020-21 school year to limit exposure and spread of the virus.

There are many logistical items that the schools are working to solve from how to creatively use their space to maintain safe learning environments, where the cut off line should be for which grades are elementary and which are secondary grades, and how to efficiently do drop off and pick up for are among the things that the schools are still planning.