RED WING -- Seniors will be among the first high school students coming back to in-person learning.

Hybrid learning for grade 12 as well as grades 7-8 will end on March 19. They will return March 22 in a 4+1 format, which means in-person learning Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; online for all on Wednesday.

Then on April 5, 9-11 will return on the 4+1 plan.

The vote came even after the superintendent and the district’s safety consultant said that wasn’t enough time to prepare. The administration’s recommendation was to start beginning students back April 5, the start of the fourth quarter.

Right now, grades 7-12 are in two cohorts, attending two days in-person and three online.

Principal George recommended that grades 7-8, 12 return on April 5.

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“Essentially, get the seniors back in the school for their final year sooner rather than later,” Superintendent Karsten Anderson told the School Board on Tuesday, Feb. 16.

He stressed that any student in any grade can continue with distance learning; that's a state mandate.

Grades 5-6 will return to the elementary schools on April 5. That was according to the recommendation.

Fifth-graders will attend five days a week, with one teacher dedicated to full-time distance learning for students whose families have elected that option. Sixth-graders also might go five days a week, provided that two teachers can be found for full-time online instruction.

The motion passed 5-2 after 90 minutes of discussion and a failed 5-2 motion to bring all students back March 8 and 22.

Anderson explained that a staggered return is a state mandate: No more than three grades can be introduced into a building in a two-week period.

Strict social distancing is not required during the four days of in-person learning, according to Anderson. For in-person, the state strongly recommends at least three feet at this time.

“That also increases the risk of school spread,” warned Shanda Jorgensen, the district’s safety consultant. “I foresee we’re going to be quarantining quite a few students at the high school.”

She said while she understands the desire to have students in school, the board needs to know the challenges:

  • The COVID-19 contact tracing exposure protocol remains six feet.

  • High school students will have assigned seats in classroom and the cafeteria.

  • If one students gets COVID-19, up to 44 other students will need isolation for 14 days.

“That means now instead of having no close contacts in classrooms and that’s going to multiply,” Jorgensen said.

It is unclear where students will eat -- without masks and only three feet apart -- which has teachers worried.

Jorgensen reminded the board that teachers are much greater risk of serious infection. Face shields and plastic barriers are one option, but only a partial solution.

Board member Holly Tauer challenged the inequity of having 900 students only three feet apart in one building while the elementary schools have dedicated six-foot social distancing. The elementary classrooms have a remarkable record of preventing COVID-19 infections.

Tauer asked, “Why not flip it?” The science shows that teenagers have higher transmission than elementary children.

Jorgensen said by mid-April all Red Wing Public Schools employees should have been offered the first of a two-dose vaccination. The CDC says maximized protection comes a couple of weeks after the second dose.

“We’ve really got to protect our staff right now,” Jorgensen said.

The plan is contingent on several factors.

  1. That COVID-19 case numbers remain low.

  2. That there are enough substitutes for staff when they become ill or must isolate due to COVID-19 exposure and symptoms.

  3. Hiring up to 2-4 additional dedicated substitutes through the end of the 2020-21 school year.