Move aims to keep them healthy, out of quarantine for graduation

More Lakeville Area School District secondary students are or will be going to distance learning before the end of the school year.

Lakeville middle school students continued with distance learning for a third additional week through May 7, and Lakeville senior students in the high schools will go to distance learning after May 21, the district said during the April 27 School Board meeting.

The middle school decision was made as Lakeville has become a hot spot for new COVID-19 transmission, and the high school move aims to help prevent graduating seniors from getting the coronavirus or have to be in quarantine and miss their commencement ceremony.

The district said that positive COVID-19 case rates in schools are high and causing significant disruption in the student population.

One difficulty the district has faced is that students are unable to maintain a recommended 6 feet of social distance, which has led to higher number of quarantines when a student or staff member is found to be positive for COVID-19 and is in school during the day.

Some area districts are operating with a hybrid model, but District 194 has been full in-person learning for several weeks.

Superintendent Michael Baumann said those who disagree with the model will challenge him, and those who agree with him will support him all they can.

Lakeville has had the highest COVID-19 case count increase in March over February (101.5% increase), the district reported. Lakeville continues to have the highest case growth in April, the district said. These cases are largely in the school-age population and linked to sports, events, spring break trips and social gatherings, the district said.

Positive cases went from under 10 the week of March 29-April 4 and increased to nearly 75 the week of April 5-11. Spring break in the district was March 26 to April 2. The next two weeks of new COVID-19 cases numbered 67 and 48 in the district.

“It’s not good news,” Baumann said.

The latest statistics presented at the April 27 meeting reported that Lakeville had the most COVID-19 cases in the county (7,237) since the county started tracking in March 2020 and was No. 2 in the county in cases per 10,000 residents at 1,124.

Lakeville North and Lakeville South high schools had the highest number of new infections in the past 30 days with 57 and 48, respectively, according to the district. The two largest schools in the district also had the highest numbers in quarantine with 545 each in the past 30 days.

“We have to mitigate through containment methods,” Baumann said.

Testing, contact tracing, quarantining and vaccinations are tools that help reduce the spread of COVID-19.

The district said that contact tracing and quarantine protocols take on the false narrative of “punishing” families. The district says it is following rules set by the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health when making its decisions.

“That’s where our folks are right now,” Director of Student Services Renee Ouillette said. “I am asking for your understanding as they try to do their job.”

Ouillette said they are not doing it to be mean.

She said staff members are sad they have to take steps to quarantine and sometimes close schools.

"They have taken a lot of abuse from people who are upset. I understand it,” she said.

She said the efforts are about containing the virus, and preventing people from getting seriously ill or dying.

Dakota County reported that 525 Lakeville residents have been hospitalized with COVID-19 since the outbreak began and 437 Dakota County residents have died from complications related to COVID-19.

“We have about 30 days left of school,” Ouillette said. “We are going to do everything we can to get through this successfully.”

Senior year

In making the announcement during School Board’s April 27 meeting of the move to distance learning after May 21 for senior students, Lakeville North Principal Kim Budde said: “Your safety is our number one priority. We know that you have been through a lot. … We are so proud and thankful to give you a graduation ceremony that you deserve.”

If all goes according to plan the Lakeville high schools will have their graduation ceremonies June 10 at the 10,000-seat 3M at Mariucci Arena on the University of Minnesota campus – a site that District 194 has used for the past several years.

Students would be able to have a limited number people in attendance. Details of the ceremony are still being worked out.

In other changes, the district removed an end-of-the-day study period and turned it into a class period and the school year for senior students has been extended to June 8, in an effort make sure they have enough instructional time to meet graduation standards.

District 194 started its school year later than usual on Sept. 14.

The district is adding another tool in helping get seniors to the finish line by setting up vaccination clinics for those 18 years old and over. Students were able to get vaccines April 29 with a second shot May 27 at the former Metcalf Middle School in Burnsville. The district was working on two other voluntary clinic opportunities this week.

The district also said it plans to have a prom grand march rather than the traditional dance and social. The grand march will be May 15 at both high schools.

Tad Johnson is at tad.johnson@apgecm.com.

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