Fluctuating COVID-19 data factors in as school districts determine learning models

Big decisions are being made across Minnesota this week about whether or not students will be returning to school. One factor in those decisions is the weekly numbers released by the Department of Health, which school districts have been directed to use as guide when determining their learning model this year. 

In an online meeting, Edina school board members talked through all the questions about bringing back kids part-time. It’s one of many districts planning a “hybrid model,” as leaders acknowledge the challenges that come as the pandemic changes.

“You’ll hear later on as we start thinking about adding students into our model, it gets problematic because we lose the ability to social distance the more students we add into the system,” said Edina Superintendent John Schultz.

As outlined by the state last week, schools’ approach - in school, hybrid, or at-home only - is guided by county infection numbers. The new weekly stats from the health department released Thursday show about a third of Minnesota’s counties shifted - some up, some down.

“We knew we were going to see changes in the numbers because we have been seeing changes in the numbers,” said Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker.

Ricker said that does not mean schools will be changing learning models based on each week’s numbers.

“So when a school sees its county numbers, it is a prompt for them to have a conversation with us about what it meant and also an opportunity to review some of those safe and health works they’ve already done,” said Ricker.

She says they suggest schools set up review points, every month or so, to analyze COVID-19 case trends and decide if changes are needed. If so, school leaders must give families plenty of warning before changes are made.

“Communication is key,” she said. “Communication with us and your department of health and with your county and with your families.”