School board adds factors for opening schools during Covid-19

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by Mike Knaak

Decisions on future changes to learning plans during the Covid-19 pandemic will now be based on more factors than just county-wide case numbers, the Sartell-St. Stephen school board decided at its Oct. 19 meeting.

As the school year began, whether students would learn in person, in a hybrid model or distance learning was based on the number of cases per 10,000 people during a 14-day period in Stearns County. That metric led to the current plan of in-person instruction for pre-kindergarten through second grade and a hybrid plan of alternating days of in-person and distance learning for older students.

School leaders have argued that while Stearns County’s case rate has increased, Sartell area numbers are much lower.

Now, the district will consider other factors when deciding how schools will operate. The district plans to consider community case rates in the district as well as rates of student and staff infections, which have been consistently lower than Stearns County rates.

The most recent county case rate of 46.36 would dictate the district move to hybrid learning for elementary students and distance learning for middle school and high school grades.

Krista Durrwachter, human resources director, said the district intends to follow the current learning plan until at least Oct. 30.

“We want to keep the (middle school and high school) kids in hybrid as long as possible,” she said.

The district will continue to work with local and state health officials in setting future learning models and communicate plans every two weeks.

Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert said in addition to the number of cases, the positivity rate should be a factor in keeping schools open. He said the district’s rate is around 4 percent. Health experts generally agree the positive test rate should be lower than 5 percent to relax restrictions. Minnesota’s most recent positive rate is 5.2 percent and Stearns County’s stands at 7.7 percent, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.


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