RED WING -- A handful of parents pleaded Monday night, Nov. 16, to have students return to in-person learning. The teachers union appealed for the public’s patience with distance learning at the same meeting.

Red Wing School Board members expect to receive more public input as they canceled a workshop and called a special meeting on the pandemic’s impact on learning models for 6 p.m. Nov. 23. The special meeting will be conducted virtually.

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The latest intense round of written and verbal appeals came before the Red Wing School Board on Nov. 16, the first day of districtwide distance learning as COVID-19 numbers continued to rise rapidly in Goodhue County.

“The one indoor activity that appears to present less risk is school -- especially elementary school,” Rachel Marshall said during the public comment period.

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Sarah Ball said she spoke as an emergency room nurse and mother of three students. She urged the board, in the interest of student mental health, to override Superintendent Karsten Anderson’s Nov. 5 decision to shift to distance learning indefinitely starting this week. She said the difficulties of online learning compound the anxieties created by the uncertainties of parental employment, the contentious national election and fears involving infection.

“We just upped the ante of a major mental health crisis in our country,” she said.

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Board members clearly are split on having every grade in full distance learning, especially the K-4 students. Some members also noted that not every email or phone call has been against distance learning.

The board unanimously has always agreed to bring Colvill Family Center’s early childhood programs back to the classroom as allowed by Gov. Tim Walz.

Kirby Hanson, Education Minnesota-Red Wing union leader, also spoke, but directly to parents who might be watching or listening to the meeting.

“We, the teachers, are working hard to provide the best online education we know how to deliver,” he said.

Some teachers have command of the technical “bag of tools” while others do not.

“I learned very quickly last spring that I am not built to be an online teacher. I thought after 20 years that I had my 'A game' going most days, but this pandemic has humbled me to the core,” he said. “I know that Google Meets will never and should never replace genuine human Interaction, but until the good old days are back, know that my 195 teaching buddies and I are quickly learning how to make connections with your children.”

The concept of streaming live into people’s homes feels intrusive and risky. Mistakes are magnified and multiplied 10 fold as they are now stored digitally for review and scrutiny.

He asked four things:

  1. Be patient with teachers. They will make mistakes.

  2. Exercise grace and try to avoid jumping to conclusions.

  3. Communicate directly with teachers -- don’t call or email principals, the superintendent or School Board members, he said, without first connecting with the teacher.

  4. Avoid using social media to air complaints about a child’s teachers.

“Everything about this school year is different. Everything,” he said, adding, “Please put your faith in us.”

School Board members said now that the district has gone to distance learning they need to tackle a return-to-school plan. That will be the primary focus of the Nov. 23 meeting. The agenda will be posted at www.rwps.org including information on how to join the meeting.