School leaders closely watch Covid case rates

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by Mike Knaak

With Sartell-St. Stephen schools set to open Sept. 8 using a mix of in-person and hybrid learning, school administrators are closely watching the Covid-19 case numbers in Stearns County.

“The best we can do is encourage our neighbors, particularly this Labor Day weekend, to keep masks on and social distance,” Superintendent Jeff Schwiebert told school board members during a working session Sept. 2. “That’s the No. 1 thing that will determine where we’re going to be in the next couple of weeks.”

Schwiebert updated board members for what will happen when students return.

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.

When students enter a building, they will pass by a scanner to check if they are running a temperature. Students detected with a high temperature will be checked by a nurse.

Hand sanitizer has been delivered to each classroom and each building has a number of free-standing sanitizer stations.

If the school learns a student has a positive Covid-19 test, public health officials will be notified, and they will decide who needs to be quarantined. If an elementary student tests positive, it’s possible an entire class would be asked to quarantine. Health officials, not the school district, would make that decision and contact parents.

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.

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 meet in school Wednesday and Thursday and use distance learning on Monday, Tuesday and Friday.

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. About 8 percent of parents want full-time distance learning for their students. About 30 students per class opted for all-distance learning, except for 10th-graders, where 55 students signed up.

Schwiebert said school operations could change if a significant number of students, teachers or bus drivers test positive. Finding replacements to keep classes open and buses running could be a challenge. Even though case numbers might not exceed the limit for in-person or hybrid learning, the district may have to move to all-distance learning if too many staff and students end up quarantined.

A decision on how and if winter activities can proceed won’t be made by the Minnesota State High School League until late October.

An outline of the learning models can be found in the district’s Safe Learning Plan at

Masks will be required in schools, district buildings and buses for students, staff and visitors.

photo by Mike Knaak
Principal Zach Dingmann (right) and Assistant Principal Brittney Shoephoerster (far left) greet students and parents as they arrive for open house Sept. 1 at Riverview Intermediate School. In-person classes for the school’s 900 grade three through grade five students begin Tuesday, Sept. 8. Students arriving by bus will enter the east doors and students dropped off by car will enter the west doors. The Riverview mural was painted by art teacher Erin Huot.

Author: Ellarry Prentice

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