Schools Make Adjustments, Plans for Summer and Fall


By Toya Stewart Downey Mille Lacs Band Member

Educators who scrambled to create a springtime distance-learning plan due to the coronavirus outbreak are now looking ahead to the summer term and the next school year.

Determining what school will look like in the coming months is no easy feat. Right now, decisions are still being made about whether classes will be held in person or if distance learning will continue.

For the summer term, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) informed school districts that they could continue to offer distance learning or offer a hybrid model that allows for staggering schedules so students are dispersed in buildings at different times. Students and staff would have to adhere to public health guidelines, which include physical distancing among other practices to keep them safe.

"We're really proud of what we've done because it’s been tough," said Byron Ninham, the Nay Ah Shing Assistant Principal for grades 6 through 12. "But for now, all options are on the table. We're looking at our plans and, at the same time, knowing that they may change."

At Nay Ah Shing, summer term will be held from June 15 through July 16 for students in the third through the eighth grades. There is also interest in summer school for younger grades, said Lehtitia Weiss, Principal of grades K-5 at Nay Ah Shing. Students in grades 9-12 will focus on credit recovery in a combination of in-school and distance learning.

"We would limit the number of staff and students who are in the building," she said, adding that educators will also continue to incorporate language and culture into the learning.

Some of the changes would be that all students and staff would have to wear masks, wash their hands when they enter the building, and sign-in so there can be contact tracing, if needed.

Some of the considerations the educators have to think about include transportation, staggering school days, the point of entry into buildings, how to serve meals, and other steps to keep students and staff safe. They may also have to explore whether educators can teach outside of their licensure.

"We are leaving no stone unturned and being proactive in the process," Byron said. "We’re all thinking about August and what the fall will look like. We know that it will look different.”

In an email to education leaders, MDE Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker wrote that because of the unpredictability of the virus, the state is offering the hybrid instructional model. She said MDE would continue to work with the state’s Department of Health to monitor the public health situation and then will offer additional guidance for school districts on how to safely begin the 2020-21 school year.

"We know how important it is to ensure that students are receiving the education that they deserve," she wrote in the May 14 email. "Distance learning has been hard on everyone — students, their families, and educators, and especially children of color, Indigenous children, immigrant children, low-income families and communities, and people who have disabilities.
“We hope that by offering a model where schools will be able to safely provide at least some in-person instruction will be an opportunity to better support students who have been struggling with distance learning."

Commissioner of Education Joyce Shingobe said she is proud of the work that is happening on behalf of the students. There has been a lot of collaboration, teamwork, and maintenance of good relationships with MDE and the Bureau of Indian Education.

"In the age of doing things differently (because of the pandemic) we'll probably never go back to how we ran a school before," said Joyce. "We’ll have to plan fast for what schools will do, and having staggered schedules is a real possibility."

There are 160 students enrolled in the three Band-operated schools. To ensure that families have a change to weigh in on how distance learning is working for them, the schools will ask them to participate in a survey. Some of the questions will ask how they are using technology, what issues they've encountered, and how they are doing mentally and emotionally.
On a positive note, for the month of April, Nay Ah Shing Schools was ranked number six in the nation for BIE schools for student scores and percentage active on Achieve 3000 — a literacy program that is utilized K-12th grade. The BIE officials noted that Nay Ah Shing was "on their radar and should be acknowledged as a bright spot for the gains and access students are making during distance learning," Byron said.

"Things will look different, but we’ll be here for the students and families," said Byron. "We’re taking it day-by-day, and we’re being safe."