District 728 students in K-5 moving to hybrid model on Nov. 16

Students in K-5 who started school in September will be changing to a hybrid model starting on Nov. 16.

Elk River Area School District Superintendent Dan Bittman stepped up to the podium at tonight’s District 728 School Board meeting with a heavy heart to share what he called “disappointing news.”

Students in K-5 District 728 schools in Elk River, Zimmerman, Otsego and Rogers in a full-time face-to-face model will be changing to a hybrid model on Nov. 16.

“As an educator, administrator, father of school-age children, I wholeheartedly believe that the best place for all of our students in ISD 728 is in our buildings with our staff,” Bittman said. “That is the best place.

“As you know we have worked tirelessly to do that. We have asked for special permission. We worked with the Minnesota Department of Health. We have pushed back when our data says that we should be doing one model versus another. And we have worked tirelessly to make sure our kids and families are safe in our buildings.”

Unfortunately, he said, the numbers no longer support that position.

“The data in our communities is at such a rate we will need to make a change to the hybrid model at the elementary level beginning Nov. 16,” he said. “The data we look in each of our counties, regardless of whether (we break it down based on building, city, zip code, county or region) is all above that threshold for elementary. Parents of students in the primary grades will be notified of the change and have the opportunity to switch to an all distance learning model if they so choose.

District 728 officials hope that by March 8 students in K-5 will return to a face to face model for the third trimester. The COVID-19 case rates will have to support that change, Bittman said.

ISD 728 has been working with public health officials in each of the five counties the district sits in and the Department of Health to review and better understand current case rates. Local public health officials have said the numbers are not likely to come down anytime soon, Bittman said.

The school district will send a communication on community case rates and this change to all families of children in K-5.

Bittman didn’t get into the numbers at Monday’s School Board meeting, but the data publicly put forward by the Minnesota Department of Public Health each Thursday continued to point to change here and elsewhere.

Anoka-Hennepin Schools announced last week they are switching to distance learning on Nov. 4. The 14-day case rate in Anoka County per 10,000 has been rising since late August. Between Sept. 27 and Oct. 10, the case rate per 10,000 was 33.16 after three consecutive weeks of rates north of 20.

The 14-day case rates that are published every Thursday have topped 20 in Wright County two times in a row twice and the last post for the period between Sept. 27 and Oct. 10 had topped 30. Meanwhile, Sherburne, and Hennepin counties sat at 25.10 for the same period. Hennepin County has been north of 20 for three consecutive reports.

The Elk River Area School District got permission before the start of the school year to look at not just county data, but also consider school, city and zip code data as it navigates the changing COVID-19 landscape in making its case with the state. It bought the district time in several instances and helped officials have the models they opened with (face-to-face at elementary and hybrid at the secondary). Without that grace, the year would have already looked different.

Social Studies teacher Ron Hustvedt spoke at the Oct. 26 open forum portion of the meeting on behalf of the Elk River Education Association (before Bittman made his announcement) and called for collaboration as the district and its teachers work through the pandemic and prepare for changes.

Bittman provides regular COVID-19 updates related to the Elk River Area School District, and with each passing week, the notion of hanging onto the district’s current educational delivery models becomes less likely.

Bittman told local community leaders from across the school district in an Oct. 20 virtual meeting that it’s looking more and more like there will be changes by mid-November. He said there will be changes between now and then in most districts across the state.

“The case rates, particularly on the community level, have now passed the threshold the Minnesota Department of Health recommends to have our elementary students on a hybrid model in all of our counties,” Bittman said. “So we are hanging on and pushing back, but eventually we will need to make that change.

“What that means, at least initially, is instead of being in school five days a week, they would be in school two days a week (Monday and Wednesday or Tuesday and Thursday) with distance learning three days a week.”

Bittman said some neighboring districts are likely to transition to complete distance learning because of their numbers

Anoka-Hennepin was one of those districts that announced its secondary schools are turning to distance learning in November. District 728 is not there yet, Bittman said.

For a message from Bittman, click here.

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