McKinley Elementary School Stock

McKinley Elementary School is switching to distance learning for at least the next month after 20% of the students were quarantined.

Principal Justin Kiel emailed McKinley families Monday afternoon to inform them of the change after an increase in COVID-19 cases at the school. McKinley is the first school in the Owatonna school district to change its learning model due to COVID-19 cases. The school has been using an in-person learning model since the beginning of the school year.

The district’s response was due to the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases and close contacts at McKinley, according to Superintendent Jeff Elstad’s email to families. COVID-19 cases have been on the rise across Minnesota and Steele County. Steele County had 64 new COVID-19 cases in the past two days and 288 active cases as of Monday.

The school will remain in the distance learning model until Friday, Dec. 4 at the earliest, according to Kiel’s email.

Students were sent home at their normal dismissal time with their devices and learning materials at the end of the day Monday. The school will be closed Tuesday as staff makes the transition to the distance learning model and it will resume on Wednesday in the new learning model.

“Minnesota Commissioner of Education Ricker has asked us to use a ‘scalpel’ approach when making decisions regarding learning model changes within buildings in a given district. Using this approach, we made this decision today and will continue to closely monitor every building in the district on a daily basis to provide us the best information to keep our students and staff safe,” Elstad wrote in the email.

Over the weekend, school officials took into consideration McKinley’s COVID-19 data, including the number of quarantine cases, close contacts and positive COVID-19 cases at the school. Taking all of those factors into account the district decided to move McKinley students to distance leaning, Elstad told the People’s Press.

Elstad said about 20% of the student body was asked to quarantine, with the vast majority of those cases being close contacts. There were five COVID-19 positive cases in the past week, according to Elstad. The district contact traced throughout the weekend as reports became available from families. They decided they needed to make the switch to distance learning as they reviewed the information on Sunday night and Monday morning, he said.

More information about child care and school lunches will be available to families via email later Monday. Childcare will be provided to families in need of it through the Community Education office, Elstad said. If families do not have internet and need a hot spot, they are asked to contact the school’s main office at (507) 444-8200.

Kiel’s message says classroom teachers will be communicating with families on Tuesday in regard to student schedules. Students should plan to be in their morning meeting at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday, according to the message. Anyone with questions can contact the school’s main office.

School officials will communicate with families if other buildings need to move into distance learning, according to Elstad.

“We are monitoring every building very closely for those same items, so we are looking for how many students are out because they’ve been a close contact, are we seeing a number of students who are actually testing positive for COVID, we don’t have a number attached to it, but we are looking for trends,” Elstad said. He added that the move was to try to mitigate further spread.

Owatonna isn’t the only school district facing a changed learning model this week. Effective Thursday, Faribault’s Lincoln Elementary School will close for two weeks and remain closed for at least two weeks. As of Monday, Rice County had a total of 2,179 confirmed COVID cases and 15 virus-related 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. 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.

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

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