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All students to be in this learning model through mid-January

All Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District students will have shifted to the full-time distance learning model beginning Nov. 23.

The School Board voted to move elementary schools to the distance learning model during a special meeting on Nov. 16.

“I know our goal was to keep elementary in place as long as possible and this is now impossible,” Board Chair Jackie Magnuson said.

District 196 secondary students moved from the hybrid to full-time distance learning on Nov. 12.

Administrators recommended the move for elementary students due to “rampant spread of COVID-19 and the inability to keep schools staffed,” the district said in a news release.

“We would not choose to have school this way, if not for the pandemic. Our goal as a community is to help slow the spread of COVID-19 so we can get students back at school learning in person as soon as safely possible. All District 196 students will be in the distance learning model at least through mid-January, with some in-person opportunities for selected students,” the district said.

According to the district, as of Nov. 12, the 14-day Dakota County COVID-19 case rate was 49.35. The District 196 student case rate as of Nov. 16 was 58.63 and the student and staff case rate as of the same date was 73.46.

Director of Human Resources Tom Pederstuen said the staff capacity has been strained among all employees, especially with covering absences. So far, the district has only been able to fill about 50 percent of building absences and about 25 percent of nurse absences. Transportation had been experiencing 30 to 35 bus driver absences per day.

“We need to understand this doesn’t mean that students sit in an empty classroom or don’t receive a bus ride to school,” he said. “But rather other staff are redeployed to cover these absences. Our students may be reassigned for the day to other teachers, and that is just putting a tremendous stress on all the rest of the staff that are still here.”

Director of Elementary Education Sally Soliday said Nov. 19 and 20 were being used for teacher preparation days. Elementary school cohorts A and B are being combined and students will engage virtually four days each week. Students attending 196 Digital Academy will remain in their current classrooms.

Wednesdays will remain independent learning days with opportunities for student and teacher collaboration. Phase-in on-site targeted services for students during distance learning will be determined based on weekly data analysis. Attendance will be based on student participation in scheduled Zoom sessions and also on completed work turned in on Seesaw or Schoology, Soliday said.

The main school offices will remain open during full-time distance learning.

Special education students and programs will also shift to distance learning. This will be evaluated on a weekly basis. The department is exploring additional health and safety precautions when it is able to provide some in-person services, said Janet Fimmen, director of special education.

“We will be increasing social distancing so we’ll be having fewer students in the building and spreading those students out to our best ability, smaller class sizes and smaller amounts of people in an area at one time,” she said. “We are also incorporating additional

on-site health assessments as well as a health protocols screener for families and staff to partake in before they enter into the building.”

After the vote, School Board Member Cory Johnson said they will not be able to get students back into the classroom until the pandemic can be brought under control. He encouraged community members to follow the recommendations of health officials.

“I definitely, having two kids in elementary ... I definitely feel that disappointment like a lot of our families probably are but the fact is, you know, it’s just not safe when you’re looking at the data,” he said.

Patty Dexter can be reached at patty.dexter@apgecm.com.

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