by Mike Knaak
The latest Covid-19 case numbers have not dropped enough to allow Sartell-St. Stephen schools to change plans for reopening schools, Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert said Thursday, Aug. 27.
When classes begin Sept. 8, pre-kindergarten through fifth-grade students will attend in person while students in grades six through 12 will follow a hybrid model, alternating in-person instruction with distance learning.
“The Stearns County rate was decreasing through Aug 18, but since that time the rate has steadily increased to today’s average of 14.22,” Schwiebert said in a statement.
“We had hoped the numbers would continue to go down. When the school board held their meeting on Aug. 17, I announced that on Aug. 27 we would check again and hopefully announce we could all go in-person. However with the increase in county rate and the desire to stay in one model for at least three or four weeks, our District Covid Team believes it is best to open school with the in-person learning model for pre-kindergarten-five and hybrid learning model for grades 6-12.”
For hybrid learning grades, students will be divided into two groups. One group will meet in school Monday and Tuesday and use distance learning on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The second group will use distance learning on Monday, Tuesday and Friday and meet in school on Wednesday and Thursday.
In-person classes will be limited to 50 percent capacity, but that shouldn’t be a problem because most classrooms have a capacity of 33-34 students, Schwiebert said.
Gov. Tim Walz announced on July 30 a formula for school districts to use to determine learning models. The key item in this metric is the number of new county Covid-19 cases in the past 14 days. To open all grades to in-person classes, the rate needs to be nine or fewer cases. School districts may choose stricter options but not less restrictive plans than determined by case numbers.
Once school starts, every two weeks the administration will decide the model for the next two weeks. Families can expect a communication every other Thursday, beginning Sept. 17, for the anticipated learning model for the following two weeks. If a more urgent need arises, the school district will promptly shift to a more restrictive model.
Families also have the option of participating in a distance-learning-format. Schwiebert told the board about 8 percent of parents want full-time distance learning for their students, according to surveys sent to parents.
An outline of these models can be found in the district’s Safe Learning Plan at www.sartell.k12.mn.us/safelearningplan.
Masks will be required in schools, district buildings and buses for students, staff and visitors.