Beginning Nov. 30, all grade levels within North Branch Area Public Schools will begin remote learning.

During the North Branch School Board meeting Nov. 12, Superintendent Sara Paul reported the district will go into a remote learning mode beginning Nov. 30. The last day of in-school instruction for students will be Nov. 20. There will be no school for all in-school students Nov. 23-25. Tuesday, Jan. 19 is the target date for a return to in-school instruction following the remote learning period.

“We really believed in making sure that we are providing predictability for our families,” Paul said. “There’s a lot of stresses that go on during a pandemic environment and providing that predictability for our families to know what education is going to look like, we’ve really done our best to provide as much predictability as possible.

“We really created positive learning environments and we wanted to make sure that that in-person connection really does address the social-emotional needs of our students,” Paul added.

Paul noted the drastic change teachers and students have had to endure this school year, such as wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

“Having strict social distancing, we have that as a core design element across our system,” Paul said. “We have gone to the full extent to make that happen and it is tremendously taxing on our staff and on the people that really put pride into the way that they make connections with our students and having to rethink the smallest decisions in order to create a safe learning environment.”

Paul said the district has a link on its homepage that shows the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases the district has reported out of its 2,600 students and 300 employees.

The week of Nov. 2-8, the district had nine new confirmed cases for students, and seven new confirmed cases for employees. The week of Nov. 9-15, the district had eight new confirmed cases for students and three new confirmed cases for employees.

“We have been reporting in all of our cases, whether the student was in school during the time that they were contagious or whether they were already on quarantine, and we document all of those,” Paul said.

Paul said when the district made the shift to a level three learning environment for K-8 and shifted to a level four learning environment for the high school, the number of close contacts significantly decreased.

“It just show that we are creating safe learning environments and when we follow that five step process and we look at the things that we’re doing, the decisions that we’ve made have been supported by our regional support team, and if we could only live in the bubble of school, we’d be safe right now,” Paul said. “And the challenge for us is that we don’t live in the bubble of school, we live in the broader community.”

Due to the continued increase number of COVID-19 cases for both Chisago and Isanti counties, Paul said the district has to make another learning shift. The most recent numbers, released on Nov. 12 by the Minnesota Department of Public Health, shows Chisago County has a 14-day case rate of 102.69 per 10,000 people; Isanti County has a case rate of 56.19 per 10,000 people. Both of these case rates (50 or higher) recommends distance learning for all grade levels.

“We live in a community that right now there is community spread that’s happening. We are not showing as many districts, and the state of Minnesota has even said that schools are not the super spreader that they thought they would be,” Paul said. “And so the fact that we have kids in school and are in an environment that’s safe, is just amazing, wonderful.”

Paul said the data she’s receiving from public health officials is that social gatherings are the most common spreaders of COVID-19.

“Social gatherings are the biggest things that are causing community spread. And while it isn’t the schools, we’re still impacted by those numbers. Because not only our students, our staff live in the modern community,” Paul said.

Paul said the health officials are able to put the confirmed COVID-19 case numbers more into context for the district, noting the case rate has increased due to positive cases at the prison in Rush City and at long-term care facilities.

“We have community spread happening, and I in no way want to imply we are not impacted by it, because we are, but we do have to take into account some of the area reasons for those dramatic spikes, and it is not schools,” Paul said “It is not happening because kids are going to school; they are in safe environments at school.”

Paul said upcoming social gatherings due to the holidays will lead to more positive COVID-19 cases, hence the reason for remote learning beginning Nov. 30.

“When we know that social gatherings are the reason for the majority of the spike in our community, and when we can predictability count on the fact there will be more social gatherings due to the holidays, that is really what is shifting us into looking at remote learning over the phase through the holiday season,” Paul said.

Paul said remote learning, which is a level five learning environment, consists of:

• Student support provided on-site based on student needs.

• All instruction delivered remotely.

• On-site child care offered based on guidance from the state of Minnesota.

• Decisions regarding activities will follow guidance from the Minnesota State High School League.

• Families will be invited to pick up prepackaged meals, and delivery will be provided to targeted locations throughout the community, similar to what was done during last year’s remote learning.

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