The Medford School Board spent Monday night discussing learning model updates, COVID-19 cases within the district and how the district plans to proceed with school athletics as COVID-19 cases are increasing in Steele County and the state.

Students didn’t have school on Monday as teachers and staff prepped for distance learning in the coming weeks. As previously announced, students will remain in their current learning model through the rest of this week. Superintendent Mark Ristau said the district will ensure students are sent home with the materials and devices needed for distance learning.

“Our goal is still to make it to Friday, our in-house numbers are OK right now and the county was fine with that moving forward,” Ristau said.

Distance learning for Medford students begins Monday and goes through Friday, Dec. 4 with a break for Thanksgiving Nov. 26-27. Ristau said he hopes to bring students back to their current learning model on Monday, Dec. 7, depending on case data.

The School Board also agreed to push the beginning of winter sports back to Dec. 7. though Gov. Tim Walz halted high school sporting events through Friday, Dec. 25, though a challenge to that decision may be mounting.

Let Them Play MN, a group of parents, coaches and kids who want youth sports to be allowed during the pandemic, urged Walz to reconsider, calling youth sports “an important bright spot” in a difficult year. Affected sports will include prep football and volleyball.

“Coaches and schools have adopted protocols that help prevent the spread of COVID more than the things teens will do without sports,” Rocori High School head football coach James Herberg said in the group’s statement. “Cancelling sports may sound helpful on paper, but with no protocols or supervision, the spread will be worse.”

Several Medford staff have just completed quarantining and another staff member is quarantining, awaiting test results. Depending on those results, more students and staff may have to switch to distance learning earlier than planned. On Thursday, Steele County reported 35 new COVID-19 cases within the past 24 hours for 1,482 total and 6 deaths. Last Thursday the county’s case rate per 10,000 was at 41.99. Neighboring Rice County added 177 cases for a total of 3,248 cases in all and 27 deaths, while Waseca County reported 26 more cases since Wednesday, making a total 1,201 and 10 deaths there.

With trends going in the wrong direction and Ristau says the next rate could be in the 60s and could jump up even more the following week.

“Our new positives have more than doubled from last week and we have quadrupled over the last two weeks for our cases,” Steele County Public Health Director Amy Caron said in her Monday update on Facebook.

The next Medford School Board meeting is set for Dec. 21 at 6 p.m.

Reach reporter Ashley Rezachek at 507-444-2376. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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