Superintendent blames lack of caution by adults for classes moving online in southern Minnesota

Fairmont students are moving back online due to increasing COVID-19 cases. (FOX 9)

A southern Minnesota superintendent, frustrated by a spike in COVID-19 cases in his community, was forced to shut down in-person learning at the high school during homecoming week.

The superintendent is blaming the adults in the community who he believes are not following health and safety protocols aimed at slowing the spread of the virus.

"Our numbers are skyrocketing," said Fairmont Area Schools Superintendent Joe Brown.

Superintendent Brown isn’t happy. After shutting down in-person learning at the district's high school because of rising COVID-19 numbers within the Martin County community in far southern Minnesota.

"Initially, my thoughts were, I was mad," said Superintendent Brown. "I was sad. I was frustrated. But now I am embarrassed because we have way too many people in Martin County who don’t wear a mask. They don’t wear a mask anyplace."

Overall, Martin County has had 372 confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic and 10 deaths.

At last check, those numbers include about 90 active cases. The superintendent and state health officials have blamed on large, community gatherings including recent weddings and funerals.

"We still have a lot of non-believers," said the superintendent.

Superintendent Brown says he had no choice sending the older students home for distance learning in the middle of homecoming week and putting all extracurricular activities on hold just as high school football and volleyball are set to resume across the state.

"And now, our students are being penalized," said Superintendent Brown. "Our students are being forced to stay home because of the actions, or the inaction, if you will, of many adults in our community."

Meantime, about 170 miles away along the I-90 corridor in Winona, it’s a different story. With COVID numbers coming down, students in grades 7 through 12 are finally getting ready to get back in their classrooms after a large, late summer outbreak there.

"It’s been a very different start to the school year," said Winona Public Schools Superintendent Annette Freiheit.

Superintendent Freiheit made the call to step into a hybrid model for all of Winona’s 2,700 students on Monday.

Winona County overall has experienced 863 total confirmed cases and 18 deaths. The superintendent said she and other educators just trying to make the best decisions possible for the health and safety of students and staff.

"This is a time for a lot of grace and forgiveness and flexibility," she said. "You got to go with the flow sometimes and be able to respond and respect others. That’s a huge thing there is that we want to make sure we’re protecting each other and that kind of thing."