After a year of moving from distance learning to hybrid learning a couple times over, Faribault secondary students will return to the classroom after Spring Break.

Per updated guidelines from the Minnesota Safe Learning Plan, Faribault Public Schools is preparing to transition middle school and high school students back to in-person learning four days a week starting March 29.

A team of district staff, School Board members and parents who are helping lead and plan COVID-19 response efforts, unanimously approved the decision at its Monday meeting. The team of around 40 individuals has met with Rice County Public health regularly to monitor COVID-19 data at the school, local, county and state levels. These meetings helped the team determine that a safe transition back to the classroom is possible.

“We’re very pleased to get our kids back into school,” Superintendent Todd Sesker said. “We’re really looking forward to seeing all the students together.”

Students in grades six through 12 will attend class in person all weekdays except Wednesday, which will continue to function as a distance learning day. Faribault Area Learning Center students will attend classes in person Monday through Thursday, also starting March 29. The ALC will use Fridays for student outreach. The transition will not impact elementary school students, who already attend school in person four days a week.

The district surveyed parents to gauge their support of the transition, Sesker said, and the School Board will review those results at its meeting Monday.

The decision puts Faribault Public Schools on the same page as other local districts. Owatonna Public Schools plans to transition grades six through 12 back to school in person March 30, and Northfield Public Schools recently announced a March 31 start date for districtwide in-person learning.

“We’re excited to have them back four days a week, hopefully by March 29 if everything goes according to plan,” said Faribault High School Principal Jamie Bente. “We feel at the high school we can do that safely, and we believe that it will be better for students to be in school four days a week rather than two days a week.”

Always at the mercy of the case numbers, Bente said if a spike in cases occurs between now and the projected start date, the district would need to re-evaluate the plan moving forward.

In an email released to district families Tuesday afternoon, Sesker explained that the March 29 start gives staff members more time to receive their second COVID-19 vaccination before the transition. With spring break falling mid-month, March 15 to 19, the week after provides the district time to account for possible COVID-19 transmission through traveling.

According to Sesker, data from the district’s health and safety manager indicates Faribault Public Schools recently went a full two weeks without reporting any new staff COVID-19 cases. That hasn’t happened since the pandemic began, he said. In that same timeframe, only .5% of students experienced COVID-like symptoms.

On a county level, the 14-day case rate from the time period between Feb. 7 and 20 is 19 per 10,000. That’s a significant drop from the 35.43 case rate from Jan. 24 to Feb. 6.

Sara Coulter, Rice County Public Health clinic and community supervisor, said Public Health will continue monitoring numbers, but schools will look more closely at their own populations and engage in practices they know work best. That includes masks, hand washing, isolation and quarantine procedures, vaccinations for educators and 6 feet of distance between people when possible.

As case rates drop, Coulter said the 6-foot distance should be maintained “when feasible,” but otherwise, a minimum of 3 feet is the guideline. If the case rate per 10,000 drops below 10, she said the distance will become unnecessary.

In his letter to families, Sesker also emphasized the need for continued health and safety practices. The district will keep up with stringent cleaning and sanitation, and limit large-group interactions between students by adjusting schedules. Students and staff will need to continue self-monitoring for coronavirus symptoms before entering their buildings and stay home if symptoms arise.

The district’s quarantine protocols will remain the same after the transition. Close contacts, or those who spent 15 minutes or more within 6 feet of someone who tested positive for COVID-19, will be required to quarantine.

While school leaders encourage students to return to in-person instruction, Sesker said distance learning options continue for students who prefer that alternative for the rest of the school year.

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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