The Forest Lake Area School District will move out of its current education model that has primary school students, grades K-6, doing in-person learning, and transitioning them to a hybrid model starting on Nov. 10. Secondary students in grades 7-12 will not see a change in their school model as they will continue with their own hybrid learning schedule.
Superintendent Steve Massey delivered the updated coronavirus case numbers to the school board members during their Oct. 22 meeting, when they discussed that the district was making plans to change its current model. On Oct. 26 they announced their plans.
All three counties that the district has students from — Anoka, Chisago and Washington — all saw their confirmed case totals rise from within the low 20s to the mid and upper 30s per 10,000 people. Chisago County saw the largest spike as it went from 18 cases to 38 cases per 10,000 people.
“These are substantial jumps and those are significant jumps that are causing our administrative team and our planning team significant concern,” Massey said.
Massey brought attention to the district’s two goals for the school year, saying that since day one they have been driven to maximize in-person learning as much as possible while ensuring the safety of students and staff.
The district hopes to achieve both of these goals without having to sacrifice one for the other. However, with the jump in cases, the district is being forced to decide what to do next.
“These numbers indicate that we need to take a closer look at our current school model and analyze whether or not we are in the appropriate model given the numbers we are seeing,” Massey said during the meeting.
The last in-person learning day for elementary students will be on Wednesday, Nov. 4. There will be no school for elementary students on Nov. 5 or 6 to allow teachers to prep for the transition.
When schools reopens, students will be split into two groups. The groups will alternate days they are in person with one group having in-person class on Monday, Wednesday, and every other Friday while the other group will meet on Tuesday, Thursday, and alternating Fridays in person.
The hybrid model is being put in place to lower the number of students in school on any given day. Students who are in-person will have normal class, while at home learners will be assigned review, extension and pre-learning activites using digital platforms and/or paper copies.
In a notice to families, the district stated that this change will be for the “longer term.” The district will continue to monitor daily case counts and will give families as much time as possible if the district decides another change is warranted.
Families should expect to see more information coming from their school principals within the coming days.
COVID-19 cases in school system
At the beginning of the school year, Washington County had seen a spike in cases that would suggest changing the model to hybrid elementary and secondary — similar to what is being seen now. The school board then decided to wait to see what the case counts would do in the coming weeks. The case counts did drop and the district felt comfortable not making the jump and keeping its plan.
“We were comfortable with where we were at as we started the year and worked our way through September and into October,” Massey said.
Massey again stressed that after working with the Minnesota Department of Health and Education they were told to plan on being in their model for the long term.
However, this was when they were only seeing a spike in one county’s confirmed cases.
While case counts remain high, as of press time there are only four students out of the 5,823 student body and three staff members out of the 1,477 district employees that are positive with COVID-19. After going through the district’s safety precautions when someone tests positive, Massey believes that no one has contracted the virus from within the school but rather out in public. They have been able to track students within the school and no one in the secondary level has been in close contact — within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more — with other students.
“We [have] yet to identify a spread or someone contracting COVID within our school setting. At the student level or the staff level we are not aware of a staff contracting COVID in school or a student contracting COVID in school,” Massey said. “Frankly, the secondary cases come out of sports, activities, gatherings, sleepovers, things happening in the community that teenagers do. As much as there are messages around trying to not gather, kids and adults are social beings; it’s hard to completely limit that and as a result, there is some exposure.”