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What will school be like in the fall? School board discusses possibilities

The Albert Lea Area Schools superintendent said Monday he anticipates school in the fall may be a hybrid of distance-learning and in-person teaching. 

Superintendent Mike Funk said Gov. Tim Walz is expected to make the ultimate determination in mid-June about the format. 

Funk told the school board members if some in-person teaching is in place, temperature checks will likely be mandatory. The school district is looking into different options for testing temperatures, including one option he showed that uses thermal imaging to gauge body heat of individuals as they walk into a building. People with a temperature over a certain level will show up through the system a different color than others would without a fever and would then need to go through an additional screening process. 

Funk said the district is coordinating with Freeborn County for a FEMA grant to cover most of the cost. 

Walz and the Minnesota Department of Education last week authorized districts to have summer school in a hybrid format with no more than nine students per teacher. The system would allow students in groups of nine to come on alternating days in the mornings for instruction, and then the teacher would check distance learning in the afternoon. 

Funk said the district is examining options to implement for students under targeted services from June 15 to July 9. He met with elementary administrators about the options and they are surveying families right now to see the level of interest.

District leaders also continue to look at options for graduation, which has been moved to July 24. Funk said he thinks by mid-June, they will have a better idea of what the state will allow for the ceremony. 

He said secondary students will receive a pass or no-credit grade for their classes this time around because of the pandemic, while elementary students will continue with their traditional grading formats. If a letter grade is needed for secondary students, the students can ask that their grades be changed to that format. 

The last day for students of the school year is Thursday, which is also the last day for the district to provide school-age child care. Funk said the district is coordinating with the Albert Lea Family Y to ensure families of essential workers have a place for child care moving forward. 

Lastly, he said summer meals would continue from June 1 to July 31 and would be at Halverson and Hawthorne elementary schools. 

In other action, the school board:

• Heard a legislative update from Funk. 

Funk said the best news for K-12 education that came out of the Legislature this year was the passage of the Tobacco 21 law, which he expects the governor to sign. This makes it illegal for people under 21 to use or possess tobacco products. 

A House bill that was being considered but did not pass the Senate would have provided some COVID-19 relief to school districts.

• Heard a presentation from Albert Lea Community Education Director Chris Chalmers about a $24,000 grant Community Education received through the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.                                                                                                                                                  

Chalmers said the grant targets outdoor engagement and was one of 37 projects funded out of about 200 applications. It will help at-risk students be able to take part in activities available through the boathouse and the rock wall that they might not otherwise be able to participate in, he said. 

“Closing the achievement gap begins with closing the experience gap,” he said. 

School board member Jill Marin applauded the effort and said she thinks experiences are just as educational as a lot of the academic opportunities available to students. 

•Acknowledged the new banners placed on Broadway for graduating seniors that Marin and others organized. 

Marin said there are 152 senior banners up so far with more expected in the coming weeks. 

• Renewed membership in the Minnesota State High School League.

• Set meal prices for the 2020-21 school year.

Prices increased from $1.25 for breakfast to $1.35 and from $2.80 to $2.90 for lunch at the elementary level. Lunch prices increased from $2.90 to $3 for the middle school and the Area Learning Center and from $3.10 to $3.20 for the high school. 

Prices also increased by 10 cents in each category for adults. 

• Renewed a food services contract with Chartwells.

• Voted to move the district’s operating accounts from US Bank to CCF Bank. The district also added CCF bank to its list of banks where the district can deposit school funds. Other banks already included are US Bank, Home Federal Savings Bank, Associated Bank and Trust, Minnesota Bank and Trust.

• Voted to non-renew contracts with three probationary teachers: Tamera Grossklaus, Lorissa Hanson and Elizabeth Hynes. The three teachers were not licensed in the subject they were teaching in.

• Approved a memorandum of understanding with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, AFL-CIO, Local Union 1018 Custodial Employees

• Approved an engagement agreement with Hill, Larson, & Walth, P.A. for auditing.