The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) made its recommendations in late July for public school districts’ fall start based largely on counties’ 14-day case rates of COVID-19, but there is still leeway for deviation—meaning that Monticello Schools is keeping in place its current schedule even though Wright County was reporting a rate Sept. 10 that would otherwise have bumped the district to hybrid learning at all grade levels.
“While the case rate is just one of the data points used to make our decision, the Regional COVID-19 Response Team believes all county and local metrics point to keeping our elementary schools in-person and secondary in hybrid,” said Monticello superintendent Eric Olson in a follow-up communication to parents. “Therefore we will continue forward with those models, and we will continue to update families weekly with any changes.”
Wright County’s case rate had leapt upward from 16.35 for the week of Aug. 9-22 to 20.11 for the week of Aug. 16-29, according to MDHs Sept. 10 report. That rate had dropped back slightly, to 19.74 for the week ending Sept. 5. School districts receive county health updates every Thursday, and data covering those first few days back in school won’t be available until late next week.
The majority of students at both Monticello elementary schools started the new academic year in the classroom fulltime while the district’s middle and high school students are engaged in hybrid learning that splits their weekly schedules into one day on/one day off of in-class instruction and distance learning. MDH has generally recommended that a district move to a hybrid model of learning for all grades, not just secondary level, if its home county is reporting 20-30 cases per 10,000 population.
Monticello’s school start plan was made in response to those state guidelines earlier this summer and, like district officials everywhere in the state, with the knowledge that they may need to change the game plan at a moment’s notice.
Wright County had seen only minor fluctuations in its case rate during July but had until the most recent report, that published Sept. 17 and showing data through Sept. 5, seen its rate steadily increase each week since the beginning of August.
Monticello Schools continues to monitor county health data and is working with a county and regional team that comprises representatives from MDH to determine if and when it may need to alter its learning models at any building in future.
Monticello Schools has already amended its student attendance policy for this year to reflect the challenge faced by parents, students and staff alike in operating during a global public health scare.
“We wanted to understand and communicate to our families that this is a different year and student attendance will look different,” said superintendent Olson. “Our expectations for when people are sick is more than emphasized—we want people staying home if they’re sick.”
District officials added to the end of the policy, which otherwise remains unchanged, language stating that no absences taken due to the coronavirus pandemic would be counted toward a truancy pattern.
Olson said the statement would allow “for us to work within our school system and also work with our county partners to continue to value education but also to uphold the need for students to stay home when they’re ill.”
Human resources director Barb Wilson directed families to three decision trees posted on the district website as good tools for determining whether a child should stay home and said that further questions should be directed to the school nurse, Tana Kalnbach.
All three guides—one for when a child displays symptoms of COVID-19, one for exposure to either a confirmed or suspected case of COVID-19 and one for COVID-19 testing—are being updated regularly, and Wison said parents should look for the most recent version online instead of referencing a paper copy that may be out of date
“As staff and students have come back, people are staying home if they’re sick, they’re calling us asking great questions, they’re erring on the side of staying home—people are doing what we want them to do,” said Wilson. “We need to keep this information kind of fresh in front of them.”