An increase in COVID-19 cases and COVID-like symptoms in students and staff has two area elementary schools moving to distance learning.
Effective Thursday, Faribault’s Lincoln Elementary School will close for two weeks and remain closed for at least two weeks. There will be no school for students at McKinley Elementary in Owatonna Tuesday so staff can prepare for distance learning, which begins Wednesday. In an email message to McKinley families, Principal Justin Kiel said that that school will be closed until at least Dec. 4.
As of Monday, Rice County had a total of 2,179 confirmed COVID cases and 15 virus-related deaths. Steele has 1,022 confirmed cases and 4 deaths.
Lincoln Elementary staff members were notified Saturday of the transition, allowing them a few days to prepare for full-time distance learning. Faribault schools administrators sent messages to Lincoln parents Monday, and Superintendent Todd Sesker developed a robocall to send to families. Liaisons also relayed the message to Spanish- and Somali-speaking households. Since Monday was a teacher curriculum day, students were not in school to receive the news.
Students were invited to return to school one last time Tuesday to retrieve any learning materials they left in their classrooms over the weekend. This also gives teachers a chance to run through the online learning platforms with their students and prepare them for the transition back to distance learning.
The Faribault school district’s incident command team consulted with the Minnesota Department of Health regional team in Rochester as well as Rice County Public Health on a weekly basis, and both entities supported the decision which was made Friday. The incident command team, previously considered the COVID-19 task force for the district, consists of 35 members including teachers, administration, secretaries, paraprofessionals and school nurses.
As of Oct. 28, all three elementary schools in the district were already using Wednesdays as a distance learning day, a result of increased stress on staff members and reduced number of substitute teachers to fill the vacancies.
With the two-week period ending during Thanksgiving break, the school will is expected to reopen Monday, Nov. 30
Haley Storms, health and safety manager for the Faribault school district, updates the Falcon Dashboard on the district’s website weekly to track the number of COVID-19 cases at each building, and will start updating it twice per week. Lincoln had zero confirmed cases as of the Oct. 29 posting, but according to the update posted Monday, cases increased to six during the two-week period. In total, 11 individuals at Lincoln have tested positive for COVID-19 since the start of the school year.
Currently, Lincoln Elementary is the only school in the district with more than five confirmed COVID-19 cases. Jefferson Elementary, Faribault Middle School and McKinley Early Childhood Center each have less than five confirmed cases and all other buildings have zero as of Monday.
Lyndsey Reece, Rice County child and teen checkup coordinator, said the two-week period is based on the length os quarantine typically done with exposure to COVID-19, and case investigations will continuously occur in the schools and throughout the county.
I think it’s important to remember that the 14-day case rate is really only one data point for schools,” Reece said. “We also look at school absences and staffing availability. We are definitely monitoring the current situation on a daily basis and working with the schools. We do have a really strong team.”
During the two-week period, families can retrieve lunches for their Lincoln students between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. at Faribault High School. Faribault Community Education has been working with parents to coordinate daycare options for those who need it.
The district’s incident command team will again meet with the Minnesota Department of Health and Rice County Public Health after school Tuesday to evaluate the necessity for full-time distance learning at other buildings.
“I can’t say enough good things about how Public Health has worked with us during this pandemic adventure,” Superintendent Sesker said. “I’m also grateful we made it this far before needing to go into distance learning. We were able to really work with students so it’s not a surprise to go into distance learning like it was in the spring, but more of a transition. We’re keeping our expectations high for all students.”