ST. CLOUD – With about a week to go before the first day of classes, one St. Cloud charter school is preparing to welcome the majority of their students back in person.

Athlos Academy is a K-8 school with roughly 635 students. Like all Minnesota schools, Athlos has leaned heavily on data from Stearns County in order to determine what learning model to use. One data set highlights the percentage of positive COVID-19 tests as compared to the total number of tests performed.

The data, Executive Director Randy Vetsch says, suggests students can return to the classroom in-person, which is what Athlos is offering.

“Stearns County has remained under 10 for the last two cycles now, which does indicate that all students can be back in school,” he explained. “I think a lot of parents, with their hectic schedules, really want their children to be back in school.”

Vetsch says Athlos hasn't seen a dip in enrollment for the 2020-21 school year, which he attributes to in-person classes. Vetsch says about 70-percent of Athlos students will be returning to the classroom full-time, with the remaining 30-percent taking part in distance learning. Students opting to learn remotely will be provided with the necessary technology, along with free breakfast and lunch.

“What they’ll be learning virtually will be the same as what they would be learning in the classroom,” he said. “Those teachers are planning together and they’re teaching very similar material. The only difference is that one is in person and the other is virtual. We saw what didn’t work (last spring) and we’ve found ways to make it work for the distance learners.”

Vetsch says the school has put a variety of safety measures in place for those returning to the building, including temperature checks at the door, mandatory social distancing, and cleaning and disinfecting protocols throughout the day. He says students will spend most of their time in one place with the same group of students and staff.

“Students will mostly be in their classrooms,” he said. “We’re minimizing risk. We don’t want to take any chances. They’ll be outside for physical education with social distancing in place, but the majority of the day – including lunch and breakfast – they’ll be in their classrooms.”

Athlos schools are located across the state and country, but Vetsch says the decision to reopen for in-person classes was a decision made at the county level.

“We have a team that we consult with nationally, but we also have a school board locally, made up of parents, staff members and community members,” he explained. “So, it’s kind of a group effort. We get together, we talk through the different scenarios, and we make a choice that’s best for the students and staff.

So many families were very thankful about how thoughtful we’ve been with our reopening plan,” he added. “We spent most of the summer making sure we have everything planned – from the moment students get off the bus to the moment they leave the school. There’s a very rolled-out plan for safety and wellness for our students and staff.”

The first day of school for Athlos Academy is September 8.