WORTHINGTON Independent School District 518 has been preparing for students across the district to return to a hybrid learning schedule on Monday, Jan. 4. Our staff is excited for a safe return to in-person learning for students up to two days a week. Along with the resumption of the “25% Plan” hybrid learning model, the district will also be implementing new and improved methods of protection for students and staff.

On Monday, Jan. 4, student groups one and three will be participating in in-person learning at Prairie Elementary and the Learning Center while students in group one will be in-person learning at Worthington Middle School and Worthington High School. This is the same “25% Plan” learning model that was used at the beginning of the school year. For a complete calendar of which student groups will be attending in-person learning on specific days, please visit the ISD 518 website at www.isd518.net. The calendar can also be found on the ISD 518 Facebook page.

Moving forward into January, administration and the ISD 518 School Board has created a plan to return as many students as safely possible to in-person learning. Jan. 18 is planned to be an in-service and preparation day for teachers and staff to transition to a less restrictive model, allowing for more students to be in district buildings every day. If the ISD 518 school board approves, starting on Jan. 19 all kindergarten through second grade students would attend classes in-person every school day. Beginning the week of Jan. 25, students in grades 3 through 12 would be using a “50% Plan” with two student groups attending class in-person each school day. Finally, by the last week of January, all Prairie Elementary students would be attending in-person classes every school day. These plans are contingent on the health and safety of students and staff at ISD 518 as well as school board approval.

To help keep students and staff safe and healthy during the upcoming planned transition to a less restrictive learning model, ISD 518 will be implementing increased health and safety protocols and standards. A major new change that will be occurring is testing being made available to all on-site staff every two weeks. This testing will be available free of cost for all ISD 518 staff who work in ISD 518 facilities. The first testing date will be Jan. 12, with subsequent testing to be offered every two weeks.

School districts across the state of Minnesota are offering their on-site staff the opportunity to be tested for COVID-19. It is critical that ISD 518 follow the two-week plan so that the state may manage the COVID-19 testing lab capacity. As a reminder, COVID-19 testing is available to all Minnesotans at any time. A community testing site has been established at the Worthington Event Center. Testing is open to everyone, regardless of health insurance status.

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Please help ISD 518 in continuing to provide further opportunities for our students to attend class in person. Many experts in the education and health care fields have theorized that minimal spread takes place in school buildings where strict social distancing and masking requirements are in place.

District 518 administration works closely with state and local health officials to help to determine if it is safe and reasonable for our students to attend classes in person. Community data is one of the items used when deciding what learning model can be used for our students. Our community can support our students by continuing to follow social distancing and masking guidelines and limiting cases of COVID-19 within our community.

Parker Sandhurst is District 518's communications coordinator.