School District 166 starts with distance learning, sets date to reconsider

The school board of School District 166 held another marathon meeting Thursday, Aug. 20, spending over three hours in a Zoom conference. The board spent a little time on routine business and a great deal of time on the district’s return-to-school plan in the COVID-19 pandemic. To see the Cook County Schools Restart Plan, click here.

The meeting started with a motion by Board Member Sissy Lunde to amend the meeting agenda to add discussion of possibly approving a hybrid learning model, which would have been a change from what was decided at a special school board meeting Aug. 13.

The motion caused a bit of debate with Board Chair Dan Shirley, who noted that the idea of reopening discussion on something that had been approved by the board was perhaps not in accordance with the policy for board actions.

Board Member Rena Rogers seconded the motion stating that she felt there are enough components in the school’s distance learning plan and its hybrid plan that the discussion could be meaningful. The other board members agreed and the item was added to the agenda, which may have given the parents wanting at least some in-person learning for the next school year some hope.

However, those hopes were not realized. After significant discussion about the possibility of switching to a hybrid learning model, the board stayed on course with distance learning to start the 2020-2021 school year.

That was despite some information on the financial impact of that discussion from Principal Megan Myers. Principal Myers told the board that as of the meeting, the district had 20 students withdraw from enrollment.

Myers told the board that as of the meeting, 20 students had “unenrolled” in ISD 166. She said the school receives approximately $15,000 in federal, state and local funds per child, meaning an estimated $300,000 loss to the district.

Myers also noted that the district’s decision could impact future voter referendums.

But Myers advocated for a hybrid start to the school year for more than financial reasons. Speaking for herself and Assistant Principal Mitch Dorr, Myers said as administrators they could not ethically stay silent during this time of such controversy.

She said she believed that having teachers, students and school start in the hybrid model would give the students the chance to build positive relationships in the classrooms which would lead to successful distance learning.

Myers noted that with the hybrid model, families have the option to have their students attend school in person or in the distance learning model. Myers said this allows everyone to make the best decision for their family situation.

Although there were over 60 people observing the Zoom meeting, only two spoke. One, a father of a 5-year-old, spoke in favor of distance learning because of its safety and consistency.

Maria Burnett, Grand Portage education director, reiterated what she said in the Aug. 6 special meeting–she said Grand Portage community members want the school to continue with the distance learning model, to not only protect children but other community members. She said many Grand Portage students live in multi-generational homes and, as such, could share the virus with elders.

Although the board decided, after much debate, to begin the year with the distance learning model, a motion was passed to reassess the learning model at the first mid-quarter. The school incident command team, which includes school administration, local public health officials, teachers, and School Board Member Carrie Jansen, will bring forward a recommendation by Oct. 5 on what model to proceed with at that time.
To see the full video of the Aug. 20 school board meeting on Zoom, click here.

School starts at ISD 166 on Sept. 3, however, that day, as well as Sept. 4, is dedicated to the distribution of devices to students. That distribution will give parents and students an opportunity to meet their teachers.

Details are also being worked out for some in-person learning, such as in the industrial tech and culinary arts areas.

WTIP’s Rhonda Silence spoke with School District 166 Superintendent Dr. Bill Crandall after the meeting to learn more about the district’s plan for the start of school.