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Update 34: Transition to four days per week in-person learning at middle and high schools; final days for updating trimester three learning model; submit interest form for virtual online learning fall 2021

(02/26/2021) Taking a look at Anoka-Hennepin since the start of 2021, middle and high schools are now in their second successful week of hybrid learning and elementary schools in their sixth successful week of in-person learning. Some middle and high school students will start in-person learning, four days a week, next week with all having chosen this learning model expected the week of March 22. Distance learning will continue to be the learning model choice for thousands of students. The district continues to encourage students to attend school in person. 

The following topics will be shared in this week’s update:

  • Setting the expectations for temporary distance learning transitions and school closures.
  • Why has Anoka-Hennepin decided on a four day week for middle and high schools? Why can’t middle and high schools follow the five day week like elementary schools?
  • Final days: Opportunity to update trimester three learning model for middle and high school families.
  • Calendar changes to address concerns related to the pandemic.
  • MDH suggests families get tested for COVID-19 regularly to keep schools open.
  • CDC recommends no travel amid COVID-19.
  • District virtual online schools starting up in the 2021-22 school year; take interest survey TODAY for more info later.

Make sure to check out the frequently asked questions area of the COVID-19 website as an additional resource. 

Setting the expectations for temporary distance learning transitions and school closures

An update of the MN Safe Learning Plan provides new language and direction to assist with decision making for possible schoolwide transitions to distance learning or closing school. An important change now emphasizes the use of school-level health data and staff capacities in addition to county level health data when making decisions about learning models or operating school. Managing schools becomes much more localized under this approach, reducing the expectation of a districtwide distance learning transition or closure and leading to two scenarios most likely to happen regarding learning model shifts or closures. 

When would an entire school shift to distance learning?

A decision to transition an entire school to distance learning will be considered if student or employee confirmed cases of COVID-19 or influenza-like illness impact the ability to offer school in person. To limit exposure and control spread, students will attend school in the distance learning format for a 14 day period. The school will announce the transition details with parents/guardians providing as much time as possible to allow for planning. 

The MN Safe Learning Plan now includes language the district will reference for decision-making: 

If a school is operating in an in-person or hybrid learning model and “the number of students and school staff who are absent or who are sent home with influenza- or COVID-19-like illness reaches approximately 5% of the total number of students and staff in a school within a single week,” schools should reach out to their Regional Support Team and are strongly encouraged to discuss whether a transition to a more restrictive learning model is necessary.

Please consider that the 5% threshold is a starting point for discussion and schools may be able to operate, depending on circumstances. The district will exhaust all other options prior to making a decision to move to distance learning.  

Temporary closure due to staff capacity issue

With a substitute teacher pool that is smaller than previous years and an increasing number of districts reopening and hiring substitutes, schools are starting to be challenged to find substitute teachers during the pandemic and may be in a situation where unfilled staff absences limit the ability to offer school in either the in-person or distance learning format. In this situation, a school or limited number of schools may be closed for the day and students will have a non-school day, similar to a traditional “snow day.” If a day is cancelled in this manner, employees may be reassigned to provide needed support in another district building for the day. This is likely a one day closure and school will resume the next scheduled day unless other notice is sent. The district will use this as a last resort after all other options have been exhausted

While the district cannot predict if and when these scenarios may impact schools, parents/guardians are encouraged to be aware and prepared to take action should these actions be deemed necessary. Please also know that a notice would come from the school principal with specified date(s) if either of these situations were to happen. This message is simply to bring awareness. 

For additional information and answers to frequently asked questions on Anoka-Hennepin’s pandemic response visit

Why has Anoka-Hennepin decided on a four day week for middle and high schools? Why can’t middle and high schools follow the five day week like elementary schools? 

Anoka-Hennepin has received questions on why elementary schools have five days of full in-person learning and middle and high schools four days. Every metro area school district is using some modified schedule or calendar adjustment to accommodate in person and distance learning. Some districts have shortened each school day by up to an hour, this is not an option in Anoka-Hennepin as it would also shorten our elementary school schedule unnecessarily. Like most districts, Anoka-Hennepin has planned for the four day week.  

The following information is provided to explain this decision:

  • All Minnesota school districts are required to offer distance learning to families for the entire 2020-21 school year.
  • Currently there are over 10,000 distance learners in Anoka-Hennepin.
  • At the elementary school level, almost all teachers are licensed to teach every grade level and subject. This allows for the district to assign a large number of teachers to distance learning classes for groups of students for the full school day. Almost all elementary teachers either teach only in person or only distance learning.  
  • At the middle and high school level, the fourteen unique departments require teachers to hold one of almost 40 unique licenses. School districts are required to assign an appropriately licensed teacher to every course. Combining this with the over 200 unique courses offered at five separate school sites each trimester, the district is not able to schedule separate distance learning and in person courses for students and maintain student schedules as families expect.
  • With the goal of keeping all students in the courses they enrolled in last spring, the district is running the regular trimester three schedule and offering distance learning synchronously.  
  • Teaching distance learners and in-person students at the same time is significantly more challenging than teaching in either format separately. For this reason, the state requires districts to provide additional prep time equivalent to 2.5 hours per week. The remainder of the time on asynchronous days is used to provide additional support for distance learners and any student who is struggling or needs support. 

Final days: Opportunity to update trimester three learning model for middle and high school families 

With the move to in-person learning four days per week for middle and high schools in March, parents/guardians will be given an additional week to contact their school and share if they still want to keep their student in distance learning. 

Data from trimester one suggests that students attending in person are much more likely to be successful academically and receive social or emotional support. Parents/guardians are strongly encouraged to choose the in person option for their students. Distance learners will experience a higher percentage of asynchronous learning. In some cases, students that maintain the distance learning option may be rescheduled to other teachers in order to manage class sizes and maximize safety protocols at school. 

In response to this information, middle and high school students will be scheduled in person, parents/guardians that still prefer the distance learning model should contact their school and share this option. Sorry for the inconvenience of an additional call, but the district wants to make sure parents/guardians are informed before committing to a learning model. 

Calendar changes to address concerns related to the pandemic: Middle and high school asynchronous day switched from Monday, March 8, to Friday, March 12; no school March 23 for high school students; other calendar notes

As Anoka-Hennepin continues to adjust to challenges related to the pandemic, changes for middle and high school students are necessary. 

Middle and high school asynchronous day switched from Monday, March 8 to Friday, March 12

Middle and high school students will start their week in person on Monday, March 8. To ensure district operations, Anoka-Hennepin will switch Monday, March 8 and Tuesday, March 9 to Hybrid A days while Wednesday, March 10 and Thursday, March 11 will become Hybrid B days. Friday, March 12 will be an asynchronous day. Individual schools may have additional planning direction for employees based on this action. Details will be shared in individual messaging at the school level.  

No school for high school on Tuesday, March 23; Asynchronous learning day Monday, March 29

At the Feb. 22 meeting of the Anoka-Hennepin School Board, a change in the high school schedule was approved. This action makes Tuesday, March 23 a professional development day for high school students only and students will not come to school. The professional development day set for Monday, March 29 has been changed to an asynchronous learning day (Hybrid C) day for high school.

Key dates following spring break

Spring break is scheduled from March 15-19. The three Mondays following were previously scheduled staff planning or development days, including, Monday, March 22, 29 and April 5. With the transition to in-person learning, Monday, March 22 remains the same. Tuesday, March 23 is now a professional development day, but for high schools only, elementary and middle schools will have school. On Monday, March 29, elementary and middle schools will have staff development as planned and high schools will instead be asynchronously in session. Monday, April 5 remains the same. Refer to the print-friendly calendar for more information

Middle school students will start in-person learning on Tuesday, March 23 and high school students will start with full in-person learning on Wednesday, March 24. Please remain alert to additional changes to the school calendar as the school year continues. 

MDH suggests families get tested for COVID-19 regularly to keep schools open

The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) suggests students and parents/guardians get tested for COVID-19 every two weeks in order to limit virus spread and keep schools open. Visit the state’s testing locations website or reach out to a health care provider for details. 

CDC continues to recommend no travel amid COVID-19 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends no travel at this time. Anoka-Hennepin will continue using the following guidance for students and employees regarding coming to school that includes monitoring your symptoms and not coming to school if you’re sick. COVID-19 tests are recommended for those who demonstrate symptoms. Students and employees who still choose to travel should continue to monitor their health and get tested. Visit the CDC website for more information

District virtual online schools starting up in the 2021-22 school year; take interest survey TODAY for more info later 

For students and families who want to continue virtual learning next school year, Anoka-Hennepin will offer formal elementary, middle and high school virtual online programs. A high school program, StepAhead Online, has existed since 2014. 

Program details, information sessions and applications for the school will be available this spring as plans are finalized. Families that are interested in learning more at that time are asked to fill out the interest form by today, Friday, Feb. 26.