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Robbinsdale Armstrong High School in Plymouth.

Two Robbinsdale Area Schools were closed to students beginning Jan. 6 for a two-week period due to rising COVID-19 cases. All students that attend Armstrong High School and Sandburg Middle School have shifted to distance learning until mid-January.

The case count taken into consideration included students and staff who worked in the buildings. A District spokesperson and the district's assistant superintendent have offered information on what events led to the decision to pause in-person learning at the schools last week.

The announcement

The district shared the announcement on social media via a letter signed by Superintendent David Engstrom.

“We understand there is anxiety as COVID cases in the community continue to rise,” Engstrom wrote. “However, at this time we have no plans to move the entire district to distance learning. Robbinsdale Area Schools continues to review and monitor the situation with our state and local health partners, and will adjust learning models if needed.”

The schools closed for in-person learning for two weeks, beginning Thursday, Jan. 6 and ending Monday, Jan. 17. Students are expected to return for in-person learning Jan. 18.

The buildings remained accessible to staff members who did not have COVID-19 or were not expressing illness.

Armstrong students participating in activities and athletics were able to continue participating in-person as scheduled; activity buses are not operating during the two-week period.

Engstrom said that future spikes in COVID-19 cases could result in a “shift” of individual classrooms, grade levels, or entire school buildings to distance learning.

Sandburg Middle School is located in Golden Valley, Robbinsdale Armstrong High School is located in Plymouth.

Deciding factors

District Spokesperson Derrick Williams said the district does not have a single method to determine whether a school needs to shift to district learning, due to each building’s different “size and circumstance.”

“We need to examine what happens on an individual basis,” he said.

Williams said the decision was made in collaboration with the Armstrong and Sandburg school principals.

The day the announcement was made, Assistant Superintendent Marti Voight spoke to the board about the decision.

Voight said administration had been monitoring the two buildings since Jan. 2 due to an increase in absent students and staff, along with increased concerns coming to a district COVID-19 hotline email about a spike at the schools.

“As the numbers continue to grow, and the email continues to come in, it was really – I think – the best decision,” said Voight.

Voight also shared that both buildings had surpassed daily absences of more than 5% of students and staff, and the data didn’t show signs of slowing.

Voight said the district received no explicit indication from the CDC or state to halt in-person learning.

Williams said a combination of numbers, absences and logistics were considered when making the decision. Continued staff absences, he said, would result in combining more classrooms, putting larger numbers of students in the same space and increasing the chances of COVID-19 spread.

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