The Esko School Board voted unanimously at its Feb. 22 meeting to bring high school students back to the school building full-time through an in person learning model starting Tuesday, March 9.

The new model allows for the return of students grades 7-12 to in person learning four days a week, with every Monday designated as a half day to allow teachers time to prepare for the week’s lessons.

Monday, March 1, and Monday, March 8, will also serve as planning days for staff, with no instruction for high school students.

"I am excited for the prospect of welcoming ... students back to campus," high school principal Greg Hexum said. "This is an exciting next step, even if it won't exactly be school as usual."

The plan approved by the board comes after a meeting between Superintendent Aaron Fischer and the district's principals following adjustments made to Minnesota's Safe Learning Plan by Gov. Tim Walz.

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Walz updated the plan Feb. 22, permitting Minnesota middle and high schools to implement hybrid and in-person learning strategies as long as they are able to maintain proper COVID-19 guidelines.

A letter sent to Esko families by school administration assured a minimum of 3 feet between desks and a mask requirement inside the school building. Students will only be permitted in the building during school hours unless they are supervised by a staff member.

“The school board and I look forward to bringing our high school students back into full in-person learning,” Fischer said. “We know that this is the best choice for our students educationally and look forward to seeing everyone together again.”

The change will bring high school students out of the hybrid learning model they have been in since Jan. 25. Prior to that, they were in a full-time distance learning model since Nov. 16.

"[The hybrid model] has provided us with extensive experience using the safety and logistical procedures needed to mitigate risks when we return a larger number of students to campus," Hexum said.

While Hexum shared that the hybrid model has been successful, Esko school officials have expressed concern for students of all grade levels falling behind during distance and hybrid learning. As a result, they have implemented tutoring and credit recovery programs throughout the district.

Currently 5% of district students are opting to remain in full-time distance learning, with the option to return in person with the rest of the students on Tuesday, March 9.

This story was updated at 2:59 p.m. March 1 to include comments from high school principal Greg Hexum. It was originally posted at noon March 1.