The Farmington Area School District was the latest to decide to move to full-time distance learning in the wake of a surge in COVID-19 cases in Dakota County and the local school community.
The district’s Incident Command Team comprised of staff and community members met Friday to hear the latest transmission data, which showed that the Dakota County 14-day case rate was 49.35 for Thursday, Nov. 12.
The Minnesota Department of Health and the Minnesota Department of Education in August said that districts in counties with a 14-day case rate over 50 should move to all distance learning for grades K-12.
District 192 will move to all distance learning by Dec. 1.
Superintendent Jason Berg said in a letter to the District 192 community that COVID-19 cases are projected to climb exponentially through the end of December.
“Thank you all for your patience and flexibility in this unprecedented school year,” Berg said in the letter. “Regardless of our learning model, we will continue to do our very best to meet the unique needs of each learner during this pandemic. This is not what we hoped for at the beginning of the school year, but our staff are committed to making the best of our current reality.”
Since the beginning of the school year, District 192’s students have been in a hybrid model with students separated into two cohorts attending in-person classes two days a week and having distance learning three days a week. Classes have been at 50% of typical occupancy, and staff and students have been wearing masks and adhered to social distance protocols as much as possible.
When not in school, students and staff have been well acquainted with the routines on distance learning days, and after Dec. 1, they will move those routines to five days a week.
The recommendation to move to full distance learning was made by the Regional Support Team comprised of representatives from MDH, MDE, and Dakota County Public Health in accordance with the state’s executive order.
“Based on the projections shared with us from our Regional Support Team and the increasing stresses we are experiencing within our district, we do not believe our hybrid model will be sustainable over the next month,” Berg said.
The district expects distance learning to continue through Tuesday, Dec. 22.
“Our hope is to safely return to our hybrid learning model after winter break,” Berg said.
Winter break runs Dec. 23 to Jan. 3, 2021.
The district is not the first area district to move to full distance learning. Lakeville Area Schools will make the move to distance learning next week. Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Burnsville-Eagan-Savage schools also are expected to make the move to full distance learning.
Berg said the district has been fortunate that staff and student COVID-19 case numbers have been limited enough to allow for hybrid learning for the first few months of the school year.
He said the increase in cases is reducing staff availability to maintain the hybrid model.
The district currently has 51 staff members (6.3%) in quarantine or isolation, along with 208 elementary-aged students (8.9%) and 312 secondary learners (9.5%).
The district reported that six staff members and 55 students had confirmed cases of COVID-19 this week.
Berg reported that the Dakota County positivity rate was 7% for the previous week, noting that anything above 5% is considered significant community transmission.
As an Innovation Zone, a robust commitment to technology and a focus on student-centered learning, District 192 has used these attributes to create their distance learning program.
Berg repeated often in the spring and into the new year, staff and students should focus on “connections over content.”
When the district launched the hybrid model this fall, it was able to better prepare for the distance learning days than when the COVID-19 pandemic led to a statewide closure of schools in March.
“Unlike last spring, our schools are able to provide targeted in-person support, with priority given to specific groups of learners,” Berg said.
The transition to all distance learning will not impact students enrolled in Farmington Academy.
Fall athletics and activities will continue to the conclusion of their season. Farmington High School administration is working with the MSHSL on guidance for winter athletics and activities.
Community Education will continue to run programming virtually and in-person on a program-by-program basis.
Information on food service, technology help and other resources for families will be available soon. The district said schools will communicate directly with families with regard to much of that information.