West Central Tribune reports…
The mental health of students and teachers, free and reduced lunches, and the possibility of distance learning into the next school year were at the top of local school leaders’ concerns in a conversation with Sen. Amy Klobuchar on Wednesday, March 31.
Klobuchar met in a conference call with the superintendents of four northwest Minnesota school districts — East Grand Forks Public Schools, Stephen/Argyle Central School District, Park Rapids Area Schools and Greenbush Middle River School District — to discuss how the districts have fared during the pandemic, as well as their concerns going forward. The intent was to help guide Klobuchar’s legislative priorities in Washington.
They discussed topics I expected…
The superintendents also brought up the issues of rural internet access, which is still limited in many areas of northwest Minnesota, and of mental health, which impacted every level of the school communities during the pandemic.
And one that I did not…
The discussion was expected to cover distance learning, high-speed internet, nutrition and mental health, according to a media advisory. But other topics arose and seemed to take the senator by surprise, particularly a concern raised by East Grand Forks Superintendent Mike Kolness, who worries some students who have found they thrive in a virtual setting may depart from the district next year in favor of a virtual academy.
“I get asked this question probably daily about are we going to have to continue with distance learning next year,” Kolness said. “And that’s a big question for families and educators and, whether it be mandated by state or federal government or just by the loss of students, if we don’t provide that service and we have 100 students still want to participate in distance learning, we’re going to lose those students to a virtual academy somewhere. That’s concerning.”
There are approximately 2,000 students in the East Grand Forks district, Kolness said, and the district transitioned back to full-time in-person learning for all students after middle and high school students spent the first semester in a hybrid learning model. However, he estimates there are still about 150 students who have opted to remain in a full-time distance learning program.
A decline in the student population could bring financial impacts to the school district, as some state and federal funding is based on student enrollment. This semester, East Grand Forks schools already reported their lowest enrollment numbers in several years.
I am envious of a family that likes distance education but I understand the conundrum. It is a reminder that “going back to normal” post-pandemic is going to look at lot different and opportunities are going to look more similar in urban and rural locations – as long as there’s adequate, affordable broadband.