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Milaca Public Schools will shift elementary students to distance learning Nov. 30.

Superintendent David Wedin confirmed the learning model shift this afternoon in an emailed letter to parents and families.

Last week, the district announced that its high school students would begin distance learning Monday, Nov. 16.

Wedin said the district made the decision to shift elementary students due to an alarming increase in local COVID cases and ever-increasing staffing shortages.

Elementary Principal Steve Voshell will be sending additional information to families, Wedin reported.

Mille Lacs County continues to experience rising case numbers, which is leaving the district with significant staffing shortages.

“As community cases increase, so does exposure, resulting in more staff positive cases and quarantines,” Wedin stated, adding: “Although we have experienced less of an increase of cases within the school than last week, community exposure and cases have dramatically affected our ability to find substitutes.

Milaca Public Schools continues to have a limited number of school-related quarantines and have not identified any transmission from within, Wedin said.

However, due to the increase in county cases and the staffing shortage, Milaca is moving into Phase 5 of the Minnesota Department of Education and Minnesota Department of Health Learning Model, which is distance learning for all.

“Now that we will be going to distance learning for grades K-12, we are evaluating meal distribution,” Wedin wrote, adding at this time, meals will continue to be available for pick up at the high school cafeteria doors from 6:45 - 8:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. Each meal includes lunch for that day and next day’s breakfast for the next day.

Meals are free for children up to the age of 18.

“It is our understanding Gov. Tim Walz will be making an announcement regarding sports and activities tonight (Wednesday, Nov. 18)  at a 6 p.m. press conference,” Wedin added. “We do not have advanced notice of details.”

Once Walz has made his announcement, the district will provide an update regarding future plans.

“While we understand the severity of the current pandemic, we are optimistically developing a return to school plan,” Wedin stated. “We will continue to work with the Minnesota Department of Health and county health so we will be ready to implement this plan quickly; however, at this time we do not have a return date.”

Wedin said the return of students is strongly based on the number of community cases.

“As a community, we all need to do our part to decrease case numbers so our children can return,” he stated. “We can expedite a return by wearing face coverings that cover our mouth and nose at all times; practicing six-foot or more social distancing; regularly cleaning work and learning environments; washing hands frequently and thoroughly staying home when sick and following other recommended guidelines and staying away from large-group events.”

The district’s health office will continue to support families by answering questions and providing health and safety guidance.

It is important for families to continue reporting COVID-19 cases within their households and report absences if their students are not able to attend distance learning classes due to being ill.

The data will play a role in determining when students may return to school.

School readiness and Early Childhood Family Education classes will continue as scheduled.

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