As COVID-19 cases throughout the region skyrocket, Faribault Public Schools on Wednesday morning announced a district-wide shift to distance learning beginning next week.

Friday will be the last in-person school day for students. The district will use Monday and Tuesday as pivot days as teachers prepare for distance learning to last at a minimum through the end of winter break. Wednesday will be a hybrid learning day for students, and they will transition to full-time distance learning Nov. 19. All middle school and high school athletics and activities will be suspended during this period.

Superintendent Todd Sesker sent his message to families just two days after Lincoln Elementary School announced its two-week distance learning plan. The district’s Incident Command Center (ICC) team made the decision Tuesday with guidance and support from Rice County Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health Regional Support Team.

“Because of the growing numbers and concerns with the positive tests in our community, we really had no choice other than to go to distance learning with our students,” Sesker said. “We remain positive and hopeful that just because we’re changing learning models, our standards will remain high for our students academically.”

Sesker extended a thank you to the community for its support, saying, “We’re just very thankful we were able to make it this far in person.”

Several data points led the team to move to a full-time distance-learning model. The Faribault school district currently has 11 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students and staff, and there have been 40 cases total since school resumed in the fall.

In Rice County as a whole, there were 334 new cases confirmed between Nov. 2 and Nov. 8; 2.328 total. Rice County recorded five additional deaths due to COVID since Monday for a total of 20. According to the most recent preliminary case rate data in the county, there are approximately 77 cases per 10,000 residents, and the Minnesota Department of Health anticipates an increase in the days and weeks ahead as the winter drives more residents to spend time together indoors.

COVID-19 cases aside, the Faribault district has also experienced a shortage in staffing this month as a result of illness, symptoms, and quarantining. Since COVID, substitute teachers are more difficult to find.

With the goal of returning students to an in-person or hybrid learning model Jan. 4, 2021, after winter break, the ICC will continue tracking the county case rate, and cases within the district population, as well as other factors to determine the safest route.

Additional services

Families will still have access to school lunches during the school closures. The district set up two different meal service options starting Wednesday; one will be daily and the other weekly. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday, Jefferson Elementary will serve hot lunches and cold breakfasts at Door 2. From 1 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays, families can retrieve seven-day meal packs containing breakfast and lunch, with instructions for preparation, at Faribault High School’s Door 9.

Childcare during distance learning begins Wednesday at Roosevelt Elementary. The service will be free to Tier 1 essential workers during school hours, but the district will charge a fee for students in before and after school care. To qualify as a Tier 1 family, both parents need to be considered essential workers who work during school hours. Other families who do not qualify as Tier 1 workers will be charged the regular Kids World fee or placed on a waiting list.

The district will continue providing in-person instruction to students with disabilities who receive intensive services not compatible with the distance learning model. The in-person learning for eligible students will take place in the district’s resource rooms from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays.

Early childhood programs and services shift to a hybrid model, which means pre-kindergarten classes will follow a distance learning model on Wednesdays starting next week. Those classes will continue to meet in person all four other days, but there will be no classes on the pivot days Monday and Tuesday next week.

While in-person activities and athletics are suspended during the distance learning period, Sesker said options with virtual activities/athletics are currently under discussion.

BA and K-W Schools updates

To stop the spread of increased cases, Bethlehem Academy has also shifted its learning model.

President and Principal Mindy Reeder said she and the school nurse worked with Rice County Public Health over the weekend to develop a plan for an online learning reset, which began Wednesday and ends Nov. 30. The reset allows the school to reopen after affected individuals reach the end of their quarantine period, thus preventing further spread.

Families learned of the plan over the weekend, and teachers then had two pivot days to make the transition. The hope is to return to a hybrid learning model after the school undergoes a deep cleaning.

Reeder reported five cases total at the school — two staff members and three students. This was a sharp increase for the school, which had no confirmed COVID-19 cases in its first quarter of the school year.

“Once you start adding that up, it was just time to do a reset,” Reeder said. “…We don’t want the numbers to increase.”

Kenyon-Wanamingo Schools also made adjustments to its learning model as a result of an increased in Goodhue County’s 14-day case per 10,000 residents from 19 to 34.

K-W Superintendent Bryan Boysen announced Nov. 5 that the district would switch to a phase four learning model, which involves hybrid learning for pre-kindergarten through sixth grade and distance learning for grades seven through 12. Since the start of the school year, prekindergarten through sixth grade students had been attending school in person while grades seven through 12 participated in hybrid learning.

While the phase 4 plan is set to last through this week, K-W High School Principal Matt Ryan predicts phase 4 to last until at least Thanksgiving break.

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-333-3135. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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