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Northpoint Elementary School second-grader Evan Steinhoff reads from a textbook in spring 2020 while doing an assignment remotely. (File photo courtesy of Spring Lake Park Schools)

Local school districts are transitioning to distance as COVID-19 cases continue to rise.

Anoka County school district leaders met with the regional support team Friday, Nov. 13, which includes Anoka County public health and the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education. The team recommended school districts across the Twin Cities metro area transition to distance learning for grades K-6 given the rapid spread of COVID-19.

Many school districts recently switched to distance learning for grades seven through 12.

On Nov. 12 the Minnesota Department of Health reported the COVID-19 case rate for Anoka County was at 75.9 new cases per 10,000 residents in the 14-day period ending Oct. 31. The Minnesota Safe Leaning Plan calls for districts to consider distance learning for elementary students when the rate hits 50 per 10,000.

Based on recent daily case counts, the regional support team was expecting the case rate for this week’s report to be well over 100 cases per 10,000.

Columbia Heights Public Schools

The Columbia Heights School District is currently in a modified hybrid model, and will continue it for the foreseeable future.

The modified hybrid model is unlike other school district hybrid models. The majority of students are participating in Heights from Home (distance learning), while small numbers of identified groups of students attend school for academic support.

As of Nov. 30, the district will decrease the number of Early Childhood Family Education students who are on site.

Critical Child Care, Mini Adventures Child Care and Adventure Club Child Care will all continue without interruption.

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Fridley Public Schools

Fridley Public Schools’ students in grades preK-6 who are currently enrolled in a hybrid learning model will transition to full-time distance learning on Nov. 30.

Secondary school students previously participating in hybrid learning transitioned to full-time distance learning Nov. 5.

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Spring Lake Park Schools

Spring Lake Park Schools students in grades K-6 will fully transition to distance learning, also known as extended flexible learning, by Nov. 30.

Superintendent Jeff Ronneberg said Anoka County has not only seen a drastic rise in COVID-19 cases, but the district has as well. Since Nov. 6, the district has more than tripled the number of students and staff out due to COVID-related issues (positive cases, quarantine due to close contact, pending test results, etc.).

“Our ability to provide appropriate staffing necessary to teach and supervise students is becoming more and more challenging,” Ronneberg said in a statement.

Spring Lake Park students in grades seven through 12 already transitioned to distance learning Nov. 5.

Ronneberg said schools in the district will communicate plans to parents and guardians for some at-school learning opportunities through their building newsletters in the coming weeks to help distance learning students.

District child care options will continue to be available for families that are currently registered and as the team is able to accommodate requests.

“We know any transition – especially for families of our younger learners – creates family impact and inconvenience,” Ronneberg said in a statement. “We’ve vetted our transition plan with our regional support team and they endorsed this timeline and approach.”

The district is expecting grades K-12 to remain in distance learning through winter break and until case numbers decrease to a safer level. The regional support team will continue to meet with the Spring Lake Park School District, and other local districts, to provide guidance.

“As much as we would like to, we cannot set a date to return to a Modified Campus (hybrid) model of learning,” Ronneberg said in a statement. “We emphasized in our meeting with our regional support team and in conversations with the Commissioner of Education that we all need clarity on the criteria for safely reopening.”

Ronneberg said balancing the safety of the district’s students and staff while providing an enriching learning environment, continues to be the main focus of Spring Lake Park Schools.

“While we all prefer having our students in person, we will do whatever we can to create an enriching learning environment no matter the learning model and we truly appreciate everyone’s continued patience, understanding and support during these challenging times,” Ronneberg said in a statement. “In addition, we ask that everyone in our community support actions that help reduce the spread of this virus and get us all back to learning at school.”

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