On Wednesday, February 17th, 2021, Governor Tim Walz announced plans to return middle and high school students to their school buildings as soon as possible.  The governor stated that any middle or high school in the state may choose to implement a hybrid or in-person learning model if they can implement the health and safety mitigation strategies outlined in the updated Safe Learning Plan.

While this news is exciting for many students, parents, and ISD 31 staff members, it should be noted that all ISD 31 elementary schools have provided in-person learning for all elementary students since the first day of school, and secondary schools have been in a weekly hybrid model for all but two months of the school year.  ISD 31 has set the bar high in terms of providing a safe and interactive learning environment for all students.  Now, it is time to work on bringing our middle and high school students back to school for in-person learning!

The governor’s initiative to return more students to school comes with stringent requirements that all secondary schools must implement before bringing students back to the in-person learning model.   ISD 31 is now developing these mitigation measures that must be put into place in order to bring secondary students into the full in-person model of learning.  Those mitigation strategies include:

  • High School and middle school students must maintain six feet of physical distance from one another throughout the school day whenever feasible.  When it is not feasible a minimum of three feet of physical distancing is required. 
  • Secondary schools must develop and maintain daily documentation of lunchroom seating. During meals, 6 feet of distancing between students is recommended. When that is not possible, districts must create as much space as possible between students. Continuing to create cohorts in smaller groups of students is recommended.

Along with these requirements, a few additional matters are important to consider before ISD 31 can bring secondary students back for in-person learning.  A very important consideration is the ability to sustain this model without the need to quarantine large numbers of students or staff.  If large numbers of ISD 31 staff need to quarantine due to positive COVID tests, symptoms, or close contacts with COVID-positive individuals, ISD 31 could risk changing models back to hybrid learning again.  Therefore, ensuring that a majority of ISD 31 staff have had both vaccine shots is a key factor in the district’s strategic plan for a sustainable and successful return to school for secondary students.

The ISD 31 District COVID Incident Command Team met on Wednesday, February 24th, 2021 to discuss the requirements and strategies the district must implement in order to transition to the less restrictive learning model of in-person learning.  From that discussion, the Incident Command Team came to the consensus that Bemidji Middle School and High School students will be able to return to the in-person learning model on March 25th, 2021 after two non-student teacher planning days preparing for students to return.  Those planning days, which are required by the Minnesota Department of Education, will be Tuesday, March 23rd and Wednesday, March 24th, 2021.  Secondary students will not be bused to school on those days, but elementary students will be transported, as usual, to their schools.

The timing of this model change coincides with the last few days of the third quarter, which is an important time to bring students back to school in order to end the quarter with more support from teachers as final exams begin.

Both the middle and high schools will need to continue providing Distance Learning to students who choose to remain in that model.  As a result, those schools will need to continue utilizing Wednesdays as Distance Learning Student Support Days when all secondary students will work remotely from home in order to allow teachers the time to support distance learners.  Students will not be bused to school on Wednesdays. But, secondary students will be in school 4 days a week instead of 4 days every other week, which is a big improvement over the Hybrid Model.

Every school district in Minnesota is now working to return secondary students to the in-person learning model as soon as safe and practicable.   Please note that every school district and every community has different needs and situations.  This means that each district must determine what is best for its students and families and, therefore, some districts will move to the in-person model earlier than others.  For Bemidji Area Schools, the date determined to be best is March 25th, 2021.

Please note that school bus transportation will be allowed to increase capacity to over 50%, providing more transportation options to families.  While this option is available, please understand there is a significantly higher potential of close contact on a bus, causing students to be quarantined.  If you are able to transport your child, they will be less likely to be quarantined.

The Bemidji Area School District is grateful to the members of the ISD 31 COVID Incident Command Team for their work on the plan to return secondary students to full in-person learning beginning on Thursday, March 25th, 2021.