At private schools, it’s back to class

Each of Southwest’s five private schools has its own approach to safety

City of Lakes Waldorf
City of Lakes Waldorf School

Southwest Minneapolis’ private schools are incorporating both in-person and online instruction to start the year, spacing out desks, cleaning regularly and mandating masks, hand washing and social distancing.

But in other respects, decisions about how best to balance students’ educations with their safety during the pandemic vary greatly by school.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz has said that public and charter schools can choose whether to reopen, provided schools can meet strict health and safety protocols and that COVID-19 spread has slowed in their communities.

Private schools were never covered by the governor’s recommendation, but most waited until after the governor’s decision was made public to announce their plans.

All five Southwest private schools said they are following Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) guidelines to determine who needs to quarantine in the event of an exposure. Those guidelines state that 1) Students and staff who are within 6 feet of an infected person for at least 15 minutes starting from 48 hours before illness onset should be isolated for 14 days, and 2) Symptomatic students and staff should be tested immediately, and asymptomatic close contacts should be tested no sooner than five days after exposure.

MDH says schools are not required to test students or teachers — or ask them to quarantine — just because a student in their classroom tests positive for the virus.

And none of the private schools in Southwest have said they plan to take those steps in the event of a positive test; the Lake Country Montessori program in Kingfield says it would shift classes online for two weeks.

Lake Country is the only Southwest private school to confirm that it plans to notify the family of every student in a classroom where someone tests positive.

Here’s a brief look at each school’s plan:


Annunciation

Annunciation

Windom (grades pre-K-8)

Annunciation, which began the school year Aug. 31, is having students in grades K-5 remain with one cohort throughout the day. Middle schoolers will travel between three classrooms for homeroom, math and science.

If a student tests positive for COVID-19, the entire school building will be cleaned. Otherwise, common areas will be wiped down at least twice a day and electrostatic sprayers will be used to clean classrooms and other areas. The school has purchased several air purifiers to help with air quality and is requiring students to wear masks at all times they are indoors, except for when they’re eating.

Students are entering the school at different locations by grade, lunch is being eaten within classrooms or outside, and students are being directed via one-way arrows through the hallways.

The school is not requiring temperature checks before entering the building, though it has encouraged families to take students’ temperatures at home.

The school says it is working to develop online-learning plans for families with some medical conditions, though it declined to provide specifics. One parent said she pulled her son with autism out of Annunciation, in part, because she was bothered that the school dedicated just a single sentence to distance learning in its reopening booklet.

The school declined to answer questions about how many students and staff are starting the year remotely and whether Annunciation has required families to sign liability waivers.


Blake

Blake

Kenwood (grades 9-12)

Blake, which has campuses in Wayzata, Hopkins and Kenwood, has a 14-person team of temporary employees who will screen students and staff each morning and clean high-touch surfaces throughout the day.

Students at the high school in Kenwood will attend in-person classes every other school day, working on independent assignments during days when they are at home.

Electrostatic cleaning machines will be used to clean large spaces, and bus drivers will take students’ temperatures with non-contact thermometers before they are allowed on buses.

Visitors will not be allowed on campus until at least Thanksgiving break.

Blake has designed a COVID-19 response matrix — which it is not sharing with families — to handle potential cases and decide when to isolate students and employees.

If a student has a new onset of any COVID-19 symptom, they will be escorted to an isolation room and a parent will be required to pick them up within 30 minutes of notification.

Students who are immunocompromised or who are unable to attend classes in person will be able to livestream lectures and activities. They will be able to speak to their teachers using built-in microphones on their laptops, but their ability to fully engage might be limited.

About 15% of Blake’s 1,360 students opted for the remote-only learning option, a school spokesperson wrote in an email.

Families were asked to sign a form waiving some of Blake’s liability before the start of the year.


Carondelet

Carondelet

Linden Hills and Fulton (grades pre-K-8)

At Carondelet, students in grades pre-K-5 will have in-person classes every day while students in grades 6-8 will be on campus twice a week.

When on campus, students will stay in a single classroom for most of the day, with some classes held outdoors. Middle school students who are not on campus will follow the in-person classes via livestream.

Daily temperature checks will be required before entering the building, class sizes will be smaller than normal, and students sitting at desks less than 5 feet apart will have plexiglass shields between them.

Families will be required to transport their children to and from school.

The school declined to answer questions about liability waivers, notification procedures and how many students and staff have requested to work remotely.


Lake Country

Lake Country

Kingfield (grades preschool-8)

Lake Country is having students on campus two days a week.

About 10% of its 300 students and 60 staff are working entirely from home to start the year.

In the event of a positive test, the school plans to shift classrooms to online learning for two weeks and inform all families in the school.

Families have been required to sign informed consent forms to return.


City of Lakes Waldorf

City of Lakes Waldorf

Whittier (grades preschool-8)

City of Lakes, which began the school year Sept. 2, didn’t respond to requests for comment about its hybrid model. A parent said the school is having students in the classroom three days a week and will also have one day of outdoor learning.


Charters

The three charter schools in Southwest Minneapolis — Hennepin Elementary School, Hiawatha College Prep-Kingfield and Stonebridge World School — are starting the year with remote learning.