BOIS FORTE RESERVATION — In northeast Minnesota, nearly all public schools are planning to allow students to return for in-person classes. The same goes for the Nett Lake School Board, which earlier this week unanimously agreed to welcome back the 38 enrolled students into the elementary school in September.

This past Monday, the board considered recommendations from the Centers for Disease and Control Prevention and decided to follow the return to school plans approved by the state Education and Health departments to include: maintaining a distance of 6-feet between individuals, wear face masks or coverings, screen for COVID-19 symptoms, practice good hygiene by hand washing, cleaning and disinfecting and limiting group gatherings.

Peter Hardy, the school’s new superintendent and principal, recently announced the vote following the release of the Minnesota Safe Learning Plan. “We feel that it is safe to come here and have 6 feet of distance and obviously with our masks on we feel a little bit more safe,” he said in a recorded video on the Bois Forte Band’s YouTube page.

The plan was announced as Bois Forte Reservation reported another week without any cases of COVID-19.

Band leaders have enforced strict and successful health policies since the onset of the virus in the state in mid-March. Last month, tribal officials announced that a woman had tested positive for the virus in Vermilion — the first known case on the expansive but sparsely populated reservation. That individual has since recovered and the band has since managed to avoid illness despite the rapid increase of cases in the region.

Still, the surrounding counties have been reporting record caseloads. As of Thursday, St. Louis County had 621 cases and 20 deaths. To the southwest, Itasca County had 146 cases and 12 deaths. To the northwest, Koochiching County had 83 cases and three deaths.

Hardy noted that parents and guardians preferring distance-learning models can keep their children at home when school begins. Meanwhile, the school board has been planning for the potential of short-term closures if staff and students become infected with the virus. “Our plans are flexible,” Hardy said. “At any time, we could move into a hybrid model, which is a combination of in-person and distance learning. Or, if need be, we would go into a distance-learning model altogether.”

The superintendent and principal has posted the school plans at NettLakeSchool.org, and said he will discuss the plans on the band-owned radio station KBFT 89.9 on Friday at 2 p.m. He also asked community members to contact him at his office at 218-757-3102 ext. 104.

“Hopefully we will be able to return without any problems and remain safe,” he said.

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