Tappe: How districts make decisions on learning model changes

Staples-Motley Schools Superintendent Shane Tappe

This year has been an unprecedented one in education. Daily, we are evaluating the status of COVID-19 within the district, and the learning model for our district. This daily decision-making process is not a cut-and-dry look at the numbers, but instead what Deputy Commissioner of Education Heather Mueller calls “the scalpel approach.”

She explains that the scalpel approach…

“allows school districts and charter schools within the same county to have different learning models. For example: a county may have four school districts within its boundaries which would give them all the same county base data; however, when each of the school districts review their community data and school data, their viral spread might be vastly different. As a result, some of the districts in that county may need to move to distance learning while others can remain in hybrid. Beyond this, some districts may have local factors or mitigation strategies that allow or prohibit students from accessing learning in person. This scalpel approach is why some school districts that have high county-level case data are still operating in an in-person or hybrid learning model.”

I want you to know that I do not evaluate the data alone, or make decisions in a vacuum. I communicate daily with our local county health officials, neighboring superintendents and our regional support team (a collaboration between Sourcewell and the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education). Currently, we are in lock-step with several of our neighboring districts, with grades 7-12 in hybrid and K-6 remaining in in-person learning.

Staples-Motley School District is lucky to have the space to implement the MDH guidance on physical distancing within our current learning models, and has seen very few cases of COVID-19 within our school facilities. The few positive COVID-19 cases that we have seen, have been managed quickly and efficiently through contact tracing and quarantine, with minimal impacts on student learning.


Within our schools we are making regular adjustments in our daily routines and recurring events to further prevent the spread of COVID-19 within our facilities, such as shifting parent-teacher conferences to virtual/phone conferences only, moving higher-risk classes and activities to larger spaces to accommodate additional physical distancing, maximizing student outdoor time when the weather permits, and ensuring all students have frequent hand washing & sanitizing built into their daily routines.

Even with these extra efforts to prevent the spread of COVID-19, we know that learning models cannot be a one-size-fits-all decision in this season. That is why we have distance learning available for any family that requests it. This individualized learning plan is administered by a licensed Staples-Motley School District teacher, and meets the Minnesota education standards.

Please know that I am considering the health, safety and learning of all our students across the district as I evaluate data and make decisions at the district level. We have families in our district with a variety of experiences and needs, and are doing our best to support all learners to grow in this unusual time.

Shane Tappe

Superintendent, Staples-Motley Schools

Opinion by Michael Johnson
Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in rural Deer Creek, Minn., where he is starting to homestead with his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
What To Read Next
Get Local