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Anticipated Elementary Shift to Distance Learning

Dear Families/Students/Staff,

Due to increased COVID-19 cases in Big Lake, Sherburne County and across the state, today we are announcing an anticipated shift to Distance Learning 2.0 for all K-5 students beginning December 7, 2020 through at least winter break. Students in grades 6-12 will continue in Distance Learning 2.0 through at least winter break, as well.  This anticipated shift announcement was decided based on consultations with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Sherburne County Public Health, the Board of Education and District Administration on forecasted COVID-19 cases in our school and community. 

We know for many elementary families this may come as a surprise because we have primarily been forecasting a shift for secondary students. However, local case rates have increased at a much faster rate than a few weeks ago and as we know, what happens in our community trickles into our schools. Last week our county case rate data was 38.94, this week it grew to 72.94. The current projection for Sherburne County is to double our case rate in the next two weeks. This data, along with case rates and quarantine counts in our elementary buildings, indicate that this forecasted shift may be necessary to protect the health and safety of our students and staff. 

Last week we shared that our district will be engaging in Distance Learning 2.0. This is not the same as the crisis distance learning that took place last spring. Over the course of the summer teachers and instructional leaders have been working tirelessly to prepare a rigorous, comprehensive distance learning experience for our students. Students will learn from home five days per week following a consistent schedule. They will engage with their teachers through live, virtual classes and will also be able to work on their own time by learning through recorded lessons or project based learning. 

We want all families to be prepared which is why we are sharing an anticipated start of Distance Learning 2.0 on December 7, 2020 for our elementary students. We urge all families to begin making plans for how to set your student(s) up for success. As you plan for this forecasted shift, know that Big Lake Schools will continue to offer childcare services facilitated by Community Education. Please reach out to Community Education as soon as possible to arrange childcare needs. We will also continue to ensure that free meals are available for all students. Activities, athletics, and Community Education programs will continue following enhanced safety guidelines. Our district will also continue to provide limited in-person support for students who are in special services programs. 

Families who are interested in enrolling in Big Lake Online may still do so. Please contact your building principals for assistance registering as soon as possible to help accommodate staffing needs. Students enrolling in Big Lake Online will need to commit through Trimester 2 and may return on March 16 if needed. More information regarding Big Lake Online can be found on our district website

At this time, activities and Community Education programs including Little Learners and ECFE will continue. While we are shifting to distance learning, we feel we can safely continue to operate our extra curricular activities and preschool programs. These programs are a critical part of our students emotional and social wellbeing and we know that as the COVID-19 pandemic continues we are seeing rates of anxiety and depression increase in our students. We see extra curricular activities as a way for our students to continue to stay engaged and have positive, adult leaders support their wellbeing. 

We understand that many may be concerned about why our learning model is changing or anticipated to change, but we are still allowing Community Education programs and activities to continue. We have had great success with COVID-19 mitigation in these areas since the beginning of the summer. Additionally, participation in these programs accounts for a small percentage of our student population and are a choice to participate in. Our administrative team will continue to monitor any close contacts or positive cases within each program and will take any necessary actions to keep students safe. 

Again, the anticipated start date of Distance Learning 2.0 at the elementary schools will be December 7, 2020. This information is based off of forecasted trends in Big Lake, Sherburne County, and the State of Minnesota. Should COVID-19 metrics worsen, we will need to readjust our plans to reflect this change. We will continue to follow the current district calendar until further notice. We are thankful for the community support and mitigation strategies that have taken place since the beginning of the school year. Please continue to follow the recommended guidance from MDH to stay safe and healthy. 

We haven’t given up on building meaningful learning experiences for your children, please don’t give up on us. Thank you for your continued support and understanding as we continue to navigate these challenging times. 

Sincerely, 

Tim Truebenbach

Superintendent