SAUK RAPIDS -- School districts across the state are still getting used to longterm distance learning.

Sauk Rapids-Rice Superintendent Aaron Sinclair says their district was in good shape as far as students having access to devices.

Our Middle School and High School all had devices as well as our 3rd through 5th graders. At the elementary level, they didn't all take them home every day, but we had a device for each student, and then we had enough devices within the district and coupled with what families already had at home, to serve all of our K through 2 students as well.

Sinclair one challenge was making sure all families had access to the internet. He says most families had it, others have signed-up for temporary free internet access through local companies, and now they have just a few dozen left that are still working without the internet.

Sinclair says the biggest challenge right now is not knowing how long this is going to go on for.

The next step for us is to really understand are we going to finish the school year this way.  The spring of the year in school systems is a really interesting time, you're prepping for a lot of transitions.  You're doing a lot of work with the 5th graders to get ready to go to middle school, or your 8th graders going to the high school.

Sinclair says big events like prom and commencement are suspended indefinitely and they will start looking at those experiences in different ways, if they need to, in the coming weeks.

He says one of his biggest concerns is the stress the coronavirus is putting on families besides school, like unemployment, food insecurities, and access to child care.

With students and teachers logging on to their computers from home, school buildings across the state are very quiet right now. Sinclair says just a few staff members are going in right now.

We do have ou custodial staff still coming in.  Every building has some administrators or office staff working in rotating shifts throughout the week.  We're trying to honor the Governor's Stay At Home order as much as possible.

Sinclair says some of their buildings are holding emergency child care and food service is still happening in other buildings.

When Minnesota Governor Tim Walz issued is executive order telling public schools to go to distance learning, he told them to keep the hourly workers on the payroll.  Sinclair says in his district the non-teaching staff are still being paid and working, just in different roles.

We have paraprofessionals that are assisting in the food delivery program, we have paraprofessionals that are helping to staff the emergency child care program.  But, we also have a lot of staff doing similar work to what they were doing before and supporting students.

Sinclair says there are also other paraprofessionals that are doing completely different things like creating face masks for healthcare workers.

Governor Tim Walz has extended distance learning at least until May 4th.

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