WORTHINGTON — The WHS commencement ceremony this past May celebrated the graduation of 260 seniors, but like so much of 2020, the event had a much different look to it than previous years as a result of the novel coronavirus.
The ceremony began with the playing of “Pomp and Circumstance” by multiple WHS orchestra students visible in their own Zoom square. Recorded remarks from administrators, staff and students followed, along with additional music from choir students, before students embarked on a drive-by parade during which they passed each of District 518's educational facilities.
The changed-up graduation was just the final curveball thrown at students in Worthington and elsewhere due to COVID-19..
It was on March 16 that District 518 announced it would be preparing a plan for distance learning during its state-mandated closure from March 18-27. Staff reported to district locations during that time, but there was no instruction of students.
As it turned out, the district remained in a distance learning model for the remainder of the school year up through commencement. As a result, all spring extracurricular activities and athletics were cancelled.
And, no sooner had the 2019-2020 school year come to a close that thoughts turned to just how the 2020-2021 school year would open. On June 18, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) officially announced its request for school districts across the state to develop three learning plans for differing possibilities during the 2020-2021 school year. The three scenarios were the full return of students to classrooms for in-person learning, continuing full distance learning, or a hybrid of the first two options.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz, meanwhile, announced on July 22 that face coverings in public indoor spaces and indoor businesses would be required beginning July 25. That mandate included schools, and District 518 announced immediately that it would implement this mandate by requiring staff and students to wear face coverings when in district facilities.
Then, on Aug. 4, the district made the announcement that all of its students would be attending classes in a hybrid model at the start of the 2020-2021 school year. Students would learn through a combination of distance learning at home and in-person learning at school with health, safety and social distancing measures fully in place at District 518 facilities. Hybrid learning schedules would be different depending on a student’s grade level — Prairie Elementary students would have in-person classes two times a week, and middle school and high school students would have in-person classes once a week.
The start of the school year was delayed to Sept. 8 to make additional preparations. The hybrid model, however, didn't last long, as District 518 declared Sept. 18 that it would move to a full distance learning model starting Sept. 21 due to developing information about positive COVID-19 cases in the area. The change was to be implemented for a minimum of two weeks, with a targeted return to hybrid learning on Oct. 5. Practices and contests for select extracurricular activities in the district were allowed; once-shelved high school volleyball and high school football seasons were also back on in October.
Once again, though, the hybrid model wouldn't stay in place long, as the district announced on Oct. 28 that its schools would return to a full distance learning model effective Nov. 2. While the district stated at that time that distance learning would continue for a minimum of two weeks, it remained in effect up until the Dec. 23 start of the holiday break. Students are currently scheduled to return to a hybrid model on Jan. 4, and District 518 Superintendent John Landgaard has expressed his hope to have kids back in school full-time come February.