COVID-19 test positivity count has been on the rise in Chisago County. The Rush City School District has had to make tough decisions — implementing learning models that ensure the health and well-being of students, staff and faculty.

The changes in learning models that teachers and students have had to adjust to include teachers recording lessons and delivering them to students digitally, said Brent Stavig, Rush City Schools interim superintendent.

“It’s working incredibly well,” Stavig said. “I don’t believe that for all students it’s as effective as in-person learning. … The magic that happens in the classroom is very difficult to be replicated in a distance learning scenario. However, we have to weigh the academic challenges and the safety of students.”

Challenging times

“It’s been an incredibly challenging time with all of the activity around the COVID-19 response,” Stavig said. “And the constant monitoring of data and communicating with public health officials … is incredibly time-consuming. But it’s what we need to do to make sure we’re programming appropriately to keep our kids safe and keep our kids as engaged in school as close to in-person as possible.”

Rush City Schools decided last week to operate in complete distance learning mode, Stavig said.

The number of COVID-19 confirmed cases in Chisago County is growing. As of Nov. 6, about 1,505 COVID-19 cases were confirmed with a total of two deaths. About 5% of approximately 860 students, staff and others have either had symptoms of COVID-19 or been exposed, Stavig said.

In a document called Safe Learning Plan for 2020-2021, the Minnesota Department of Education has set guidelines to ensure students receive education, equal access to learning and instruction during the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidelines list learning scenarios for districts to implement according to the level of risk caused by the outbreak of COVID-19, of which Rush City Schools has applied the highest:

• Scenario 1: In-person learning for all students.

• Scenario 2: Hybrid model with strict social distancing and capacity limits.

• Scenario 3: Distance learning only.

“And we are not participating right now in extracurricular activities,” Stavig said, adding that currently there are no school sports. “For us, a big part of it is maintaining sufficient staffing levels in order to provide our services.”

Combating COVID-19 together

Rush City Schools has a team that’s made up of school administrators, two principals, community administrators, an athletic director and a school nurse who is the COVID-19 coordinator. The team is in direct communication with the Minnesota Department of Health regarding the COVID-19 test positivity rate.

The team has been contact tracing to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 by locating and talking to people who’ve tested positive and those who’ve been exposed, especially during the hybrid learning model, Stavig said.

“We did see that following the strict social distancing and guidelines definitely reduced the number of close contacts,” he said. “The systems work, but unfortunately, the amount of cases is just so overwhelming right now.”

The Chisago County Public Health has been supporting the needs of the district, which has been amazing to Stavig, he said.

“We meet with them every week with area superintendents, and they give us reports on the coronavirus, ... what they’re seeing, the different trends,” Stavig said. “They answer any questions we have. They’ve really done a lot to help us make these decisions and ensure that we’re doing what’s best for our students and staff.

“The real important thing that our communities all need to understand is that it’s the community who controls whether or not the kids are in school,” he continued. “I think people used to kind of … push towards the school to say, ‘Let (students) come in person.’ … If we reduce the prevalence of COVID-19 in our community, that will allow us to come back to less restrictive learning scenarios, which is what I believe everybody wants. And allow us to get closer to sports and activities taking place.”

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