Some schools facing challenges in returning to the classroom amid pandemic

Jessica Miles
Updated: February 24, 2021 06:20 PM
Created: February 24, 2021 04:50 PM

Beacon Academy Charter, a public K-8 school in Crystal, made the decision in August to go distance learning all year.

"We didn't want to yo-yo our families, we wanted a consistent plan for our families," said Sean Koster, executive director of Beacon Academy.

Koster said the decision resulted in the loss of students, from 680 initially signed up, to 550 when school started, which also means a loss of revenue.

"We still have a large enough enrollment body where we can fund and continue to move forward, but I had to make some serious cuts, I cut over $540,000 from my budget over the next five years," he shared.

Now, the new push from the state to get students back in school is throwing Beacon Academy yet another curveball.

"We surveyed our families, we realized we were going to lose another 50 to 70 more families based on the changes because the districts around us were going to open up," he said.

Minnesota high school seeing success with in-person learning

Koster said with some teachers not able to come back and teach in-person yet, the school has had to shuffle, reassigning some staff to get elementary schoolers back in the building, and hiring parents to substitute teach. Still, six to eight teachers and paraprofessionals are needed to open the middle school, and Koster said that likely won't happen before April.

"We will probably either start with an understaffed situation and long-term subs with no consistency for classrooms, or we will choose not to open up," Koster said.

Parents feel the frustration, with one stating, "I hate to change schools at this point in the year but I may not have a choice. My kids are struggling with distance learning and are falling behind. They have yet to complete a quarter without an enormously large number of missing assignments."

Deputy Education Commission Heather Mueller said the March 8 date set by Gov. Tim Walz to offer some type of in-person learning is not a mandate.

She said roughly 38% of the state's educators are vaccinated, but that work continues.

"Your schools are doing the very best they possibly can and they are going to do everything they can to keep you because they value and love you as much as you value and love them," Mueller said.

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