CHISHOLM — In an emergency online meeting, the Chisholm School Board voted to move kindergarten through 12th grade instruction from a hybrid model to distance learning starting Nov. 30 through Jan. 4. The preschool was not included in the decision and has its own set of guidelines to follow, according to school administration.

“It’s happening faster, and it feels like a snowball going downhill right now,” said Dr. Janey Blanchard, superintendent of Chisholm to the school board Thursday as she described the events that started this week.

At the Vaughan-Steffensrud this week there were four teachers, two para educators, along with 15 students absent, according to Vaughan-Steffensrud Principal Jeffrey Hancock. School administrators didn’t have a breakdown at Thursday’s meeting of how many were positive for COVID-19, or were exposed to the virus (and in quarantine).

Based on the recommendation of the district’s Distance Learning Committee, the Vaughan-Steffensrud was placed on distance learning for a two-week period, starting Wednesday and concluding on Dec. 2.

Vaughan-Steffensrud had been operating on a face-to-face learning model since fall. Meanwhile the Chisholm Elementary and Chisholm High School recently transitioned to a hybrid model. Chisholm Elementary and one class at the Vaughan-Steffensrud at the end of October had earlier gone to distance learning for two weeks.

Blanchard said at Chisholm Elementary (grade four through six) she’s also starting to see an uptick in absences. Two teachers and four students had called in during the past 24 hours, she noted.

The high school has fared better than the two other buildings and has yet to experience an outbreak, according to CHS Principal Mark Morrison.

Part of the discussion on Thursday included a rise in community spread in the area.

Blanchard cautioned that health officials were warning of an anticipated rise in community spread for the next few weeks.

“What I’ve heard today is behaviors that happened last weekend we won’t see until two weeks,” Blanchard said.

School Board Chair Bob Rahja questioned what would change between now and Jan. 4.

Rahja supported a suggestion by Director Jacelyn Corradi Simon made on Thursday to look at introducing a hybrid model at the Vaughan-Steffensrud once the current two week distance learning session is up, in the interest of the younger students.

“You actually, even if you go only two days a week you get that quality time with the teachers in the room,” Corradi Simon said.

She opined if the teacher had two days with even half of the class, it would be better than nothing.

The board also heard from Director Danielle Randa-Sauter, who talked about the impact of students and teachers and their families, if the school were to experience an outbreak in a hybrid model. Randa-Sauter pointed out that if that were to happen, their whole households would have to quarantine.

Without a clear consensus from the board, the matter was put to a vote.

A motion by Randa-Sauter to move to distant learning for kindergarten through 12th grade from Nov. 30 through Dec.. 4 and supported by Director Cindy Rice passed 4-2. Rahja and Corradi Simon voted in opposition.

During the distance learning period approved by the board on Thursday the district will be transporting special education students with high needs to and from school. The district is also working on arrangements for industrial arts students to work on their projects by appointment with a limited number of students allowed in the shop at one time.

Discussions are also taking place between the district and Hibbing Community College regarding students taking the nursing assistant program at CHS to help them meet their requirements.

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