Lead article from the August 2020 issue of DISCIPLE, online now.
It’s been the steady drumbeat since Melissa Ginther arrived as the new principal at St. Michael Catholic School (StMCS) this summer—the question behind almost every conversation: What will school be like for parish school students this fall?
“Recognizing the real and significant impact of keeping kids out of the classroom for an extended period of time, Bishop Cozzens said in May that Catholic schools would open this fall with safety measures in place to protect the health of students, teachers and staff,” Ginther says. “So first and foremost, our school will be a place where children can encounter the love of God in the person of Jesus Christ and in His disciples—our teachers and staff—on a daily basis.”
Some things never change.
Ginther and new pastor Fr. Brian Park are weathering a storm like no other as they prepare to lead our church and school into a new program year. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Minnesota Department of Education and school districts statewide are rethinking education this fall, preparing in-school, online and hybrid models to be employed depending on levels of coronavirus infection in schools and surrounding counties.
This approach gives a nod to subsidiarity—the Catholic teaching that such decisions are best made at the local level, as close to the family as possible—but it also means extensive contingency planning and a great deal of uncertainty about how close to “normal” schools can operate.
“Both the archdiocese and the parish are operating on the principle that we cannot eliminate risk entirely—at some point, people in the school will be exposed to coronavirus,” Ginther says. “But there are things we can do that enable us to open the school prudently, welcome our students back in love and—God willing—remain open until next spring.”
“People say it all the time, but this really is unprecedented,” says Fr. Park. “We’ve never had to reopen in the context of a global pandemic, so I’m asking our parish, first of all, for an outpouring of charity for everyone who is trying to make this work. And let’s blanket everyone in prayer—our students, staff, teachers, volunteers and families; our entire community—that we be protected in everything we do this fall.”
Over the past several weeks, teachers and staff have been working hard on reopening protocols, including policies regarding cleaning and hygiene at school, parental health checks at home, quarantining, remote learning, and more. The school will follow the governor’s face-covering mandate within reason but is working to make the school year as normal as possible for students and parents—including a number of new StMCS families.
“In spite of the uncertainty, we’ve had so much interest in our school from new families that enrollment may actually be higher this fall,” Ginther says. “Some parents may just be looking for a school that is likely to be open in September—but what a beautiful opportunity to share our faith and the benefits of Catholic education. It is truly a blessing!”
More Challenges—and Opportunities
Summer also meant the retirement of long-time physical education teacher Mike Bloberger and other employee turnover. In addition, the local district’s new approach to providing support for exceptional learners has inspired StMCS to enhance its in-house capabilities. (For background, see “Learning Tools for All of God’s Children” in the March 2020 issue of DISCIPLE.) As a result, families will see a number of new faces at the school this fall.
In addition, restrictions on the number of people who can gather for indoor events means rethinking the school Mass, which typically attracts 700 people or more; limiting larger school gatherings or moving them outdoors; and shifting the usual Christmas Market to an outdoor Artisan Market at the StMCS school parking lot in conjunction with the Fall Festival on Saturday, September 12. The online Bids for Kids event last spring was so successful that the same technology is being used for the Fall Festival silent auction—and in many other areas, things we are doing out of necessity due to COVID-19 are becoming capabilities and opportunities for innovation for both the school and the parish.
“Don’t get me wrong: I wouldn’t wish this situation on anyone,” Ginther says. “I want all of our students back. I want to sing in the church and see smiles in the hallways. But watching our school and community meet these challenges has been truly amazing. Our mission remains to support parents in the education of the whole child, and we are going to do great things together at St. Michael Catholic School this year.”
Come and See
While StMCS does have waiting lists for some grades, families who are interested in Catholic education are encouraged to come and see what the school can offer. Call 763-497-3887 or visit stmcatholicchurch.org/stmcs to schedule a tour.
Recent communications about StMCS reopening plans, including a one-page overview, a detailed video and the complete Pandemic Preparedness and Readiness Plan, can be found on our Coronavirus Response webpage at stmcatholicchurch.org/virus.