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Crookston School District to do distance learning from Nov. 23 to Dec. 9

Jess Bengtson
Crookston Times

    After an hour-long emotional discussion, failed motions, and a 3-1 vote, the Crookston School Board elected to send the district into a distance learning model from at least November 23 to December 9 with a planned revisit of local and county numbers. It was noted that the district could potentially hold another special board meeting next month to consider extending the distance learning model until January should they deem it necessary. All sports and activities practices will need to be held virtually if applicable during the November 23-December 9 timeframe as well.

    Two separate motions made by board members Dave Davidson and Mike Theis failed before a second motion by Davidson later passed with Theis the lone vote against. There were only four board members present at Wednesday’s special meeting with chair Frank Fee and Adrianne Winger missing.

    Davidson’s original motion was to adopt a distance learning model from November 23 to January 2 and, to “cause less confusion and make sure there aren’t any surges because of the holidays”, thought if they weren’t having school they shouldn’t have sports either. Board member Patty Dillabough offered a second to Davidson’s original motion with Theis disagreeing with the duo saying he thought they should go with “Option 2” for distance learning from Nov. 23 to Dec. 9 and reevaluate after the 14-day reset. Plus, Theis added there was a “mental health aspect” to take into account for sports and extracurriculars and thought students would be more apt to gather at other student’s houses if they didn’t have activities to go to.

    “If they (athletes and activity participants) go until January 2 they can basically write off the entire winter sports season,” said Theis pointedly, adding he was not willing to “take an entire sports season away from our youth” before eventually voting against Davidson’s original motion.

    Davidson did attempt to amend his original motion by requesting to remove the sports and activities portion from academics, but wanted to stick with the January 2 end date for the proposed academic distance learning model. The amendment seemed to confuse the other board members and ultimately Davidson’s original motion failed.

    When asked his opinion on the sports and activities portion of the night’s decisions, Activities Director Greg Garmen first said he meets with other area ADs to discuss how their schools have been impacted and thought the district’s numbers “might not be as bad” as some of the school board members think.

    “CHS (Crookston High School) was pretty good as far as COVID issues, today we had an issue; we’ve played every event we’ve had so that’s been good,” Garmen explained. “Everybody wants to play but wants to play safe. If our kids aren’t participating with us they’re going to do it somewhere.”

    He added that he was concerned if athletes and activity participants were to miss the whole month of December’s practices with what that could look like in January.

    Theis then made a motion that the district do distance learning from November 23 to December 9 and wanted sports and activities removed from his motion. Acting chair Tim Dufault offered a second to Theis’ motion before Davidson reiterated his beliefs in “serious threats (of COVID) in the community” and felt he needed to make sure kids and families stayed safe. Davidson thought reconvening on December 9 didn’t give the district enough time to “figure out what’s happened.”

    That’s when both Theis and Dufault commended the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education, and Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese for their constant communication, and both felt a 14-day reset would allow them to reevaluate the numbers.

    “This doesn’t mean that Jeremy (Olson, Superintendent) wouldn’t recommend us to go to January 2; we need flexibility during this time and this buys us through the first wave of the holiday,” Dufault voiced.

    Dillabough added to that discussion that her other concern was the teachers.

    “Will this exhaust them to death?” she wondered, adding that many are already teaching online and wasn’t sure if they’d have enough time to plan the switch between learning models.

    That’s when longtime elementary teacher Kim Davidson requested to speak from the audience, pointing out that there was not the allotted open forum opportunity at the beginning of the meeting.

    “What’s difficult is it looks good on paper, to go from one model to another and then back to another; I have 10 kids zooming in (online) and 13 kids in front of me. Now, we’ll make a switch, have two days planning, and then go back on December 9. Are there planning days there? That’s a short time to plan. Think about that as you make this,” she stated.

    Davidson also suggested the board consider having the kids start distance learning on Monday, November 23 and then take the rest of the week off for Thanksgiving break as teachers use Nov. 24 and 25 as planning days rather than the proposed Nov. 23 and 24 as teacher planning days and students doing one day of distance learning Nov. 25 before the Thanksgiving break. No decision was announced on that topic.

    Theis’ motion then failed from a 2-2 tie vote. Immediately after, (Dave) Davidson made another motion to go with “Option 2” with distance learning from Nov. 23 - Dec. 9 plus no sports or activities for students. Garmen then asked if some activity practices could be held virtually like speech and one-act play, to which Superintendent Olson said that should be allowed since it would be the same mechanisms as academics with nothing in person. Theis still disagreed citing mental health and believing students could still participate safely. Dillabough added that her own children were sports-minded, too, and they wouldn’t like it if she voted against it, but that she sees the teachers exhausted as well.

    “We don’t like it, but we recognize that we need to hit the pause button and go distance learning; I think it’s the same for activities as well,” explained Olson. “Even though we support activities, does the overall picture, does that warrant activities in person? I don’t like that kids won’t be in activities. We need to make a decision tonight one way or another. What is the middle ground? How do we compromise and get this done?”

    Dufault agreed saying “we all want the same thing, we want them in school and learning but it can’t happen because of COVID.”

    A concerned parent was then ushered to the front of the board who stated through tears that there have been mental health concerns with her daughter in relation to COVID-19 and felt shutting down activities wasn’t going to stop the spread.

    “These kids, there were many kids out at other people’s houses; it’s up to the parents to hold their kids accountable, stay home and do what you’re supposed to do,” she pleaded. “Sports helps these children. I’m not going to go through another time (like this) in my daughter’s life. I hope you think about that when you vote.”

    The board then voted 3-1 to accept Davidson’s motion to go distance learning from November 23 to December 9 with no sports or activities in person.

    “It’s a tough decision, it’s an emotional decision; Nobody wants to be here. The cards are dealt. I’ve heard from parents and teachers about all online. I get sick and tired of the businesses that don’t have masks on. The only way we’re going to stop this is to do the minimum amount - wear your masks, wash your hands, social distance. We will be revisiting this,” said Dufault.