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RPS board considers learning plan for secondary students, board chair reacts

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- Soon more school bells will be ringing as districts across Minnesota prepare to allow some form of in-person learning by March 8.

The current Rochester Public Schools (RPS) plan is to allow Pre-K to fifth-grade students to do in-person learning by March 1. Secondary students can be in person full-time by April 5.

On Thursday, the district had its regular COVID-19 advisory team meeting with health officials to discuss how it will navigate the return to in-person for students specifically, secondary students. The meeting was closed to the public.

"When we do come back to in-person learning, they will really be the ones who can determine whether we can stay in that system," said Jean Marvin, RPS board chair after the meeting.

She said masking and social distancing are more difficult to monitor for older students, but believes students in those grades will abide by the rules.

"Of course they're going to want to interact when back in school. But they'll be careful in the halls. They will be careful both before and after school and on weekends so that there isn't spread between the students, and that there isn't increased community spread from the schools. We have not seen that yet that having kids back in person increases community spread, but we want to make sure, we want our students to be sure that that doesn't happen. And we believe that they will be able to do that," Marvin said.

April 5 could be the first time in almost a year that RPS secondary students are in the classroom full-time.

The district is figuring out the best school day schedule to implement for high school. The choices are between a block schedule or an eight-period day.

"A block period has fewer but longer classes per day. The advantage is that they're not spending as much time in the hallway between classes. A typical eight-period day has shorter classes, more opportunities for kids to be in the hallway," Marvin said.

Once the board confirms the schedule, parents can choose if they want their child to be in classes in person or to continue distance learning.

In addition, schools will also have to consider if activities like dances or commencement ceremonies will resume.

"Building principals, high school principals, middle school principals have been talking about how they can give kids close to that experience as safely as possible. Graduation. They're determined that there will be a graduation ceremony of some sort because kids need that ceremony," Marvin said.

The task force also talked about busing.

"When we go back to full in-person learning, we cannot promise that our busses are going to be at 50 percent capacity. We are going to encourage people whose children can walk or who can provide transportation for them to do that. But we will expect that students will be masked on the buses," Marvin said.

The district is also making staff vaccinations a priority. Staff members are not required to get vaccinated but Marvin said 47 percent of staffers have received at least the first dose. In-person learning and special education teachers are a priority for vaccination. The district was supposed to receive 25 doses this past week, but there was a delay in delivery.

The board will discuss these topics at its normal March 2 meeting which will be open to the public.

KaMaria Braye

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