Northfield Public Schools will have vaccinated 140 employees through Tuesday.
That’s slightly less than one-quarter of the daily average number of average of NPS staff. The district has provided the vaccinations through a partnership with Northfield Hospital & Clinic for Tier 1a workers including school nurses, health aides, special education teachers and educational assistants who work closely with children deemed vulnerable. Officials consider vaccines to be a key component in keeping students learning in-person while ensuring teachers are safe from COVID-19.
Those vaccination estimates come approximately one week after pre-K through second graders returned to in-person learning Jan. 19. Students in grades 3-5 are slated to return Feb. 1, and those in grades 6-12 are scheduled to come back to hybrid learning Feb. 2.
On Jan. 18, Gov. Tim Walz announced a pilot program to begin vaccinations of school staff who fall within the Tier 1b category. During a Monday Northfield School Board meeting, Superintendent Matt Hillmann said the district, relying on Minnesota Department of Education guidance, established a vaccination prioritization matrix and was allotted 10 doses of the vaccination per week initially.
Those first 10 employees were scheduled to receive their first round of vaccine by the end of last week. Tier 1b employees, who are being vaccinated through the MDE school staff pilot program, include elementary and early learning program school staff working in an in-person model, bus drivers, school-aged child care workers and employees working in a hybrid learning model with underlying health conditions deemed serious. Following that, middle, high school and Area Learning Center staff who are working in a hybrid-learning model and staff working primarily in settings where students are not regularly present and social distancing among adults can be maintained will be vaccinated.
Hillmann noted the district participated in a consultation with the Minnesota Department of Health’s regional support team Jan. 13 to verify that Northfield Public Schools could return middle and high school students to hybrid learning despite Rice County still having a county infection rate above 30 per 10,000 residents. Hillmann said the team found the district’s plan to be good but called on Northfield to be prepared to shift back to distance learning if needed.
Hillmann said the district has effectively implemented safety protocols, adding that despite there being 19 active cases in the high school within a 14-day period late last year, that number has since dropped to fewer than five.
As of Monday, Jan. 25, 565 Northfield Public Schools students planned to use the all-the-time online Portage option in the second semester. Another 115 expected to leave Portage for on-campus learning. Hillmann said a majority of the people who are returning from Portage say they are comfortable coming back to campus.