Dear ISD 549 Families,
I wanted to take a moment to give you an update on the recent increase in confirmed Covid-19 cases in our county, as well as our communities within the school district. The 14-day case rate for Otter Tail County hit 41.56 this week, and the number is anticipated to climb higher next week. The purpose of this message is to clarify.
The Safe Learning Plan guidance that was shared at the end of July articulated a five-step process that school district school leaders must use in determining learning models. The county-level data was the first point of data that needed to be used to determine our learning model to start the school year. That county data gave us a starting point to consider the status of the virus within our area. In addition to the case rates within our county, we considered a variety of factors, including our ability to meet health requirements and best practices for each learning model. As a result, we elected to start our school year in a more restrictive model at the secondary level. We made this decision hoping to stay with learning models at each of our school buildings that were sustainable for an extended period of time. We did not want to find ourselves jumping from one model to the another just weeks into school.
Now that we are two months into the school year, we are working through step five of the Safe Learning Plan – and this has always been part of the guidance process. The Safe Learning Plan states: “After the initial selection of a learning model for school opening, the decision to shift to an alternative learning model should center on the impact of COVID-19 at the school level, while maintaining awareness of changes in viral activity in the community through continued review of the biweekly county-level case data.”
This means that we take into account not only the county-level case data when determining learning models, but also the number of confirmed cases, quarantines, and close contacts in our school community, each school building within our district, and other data such as individuals with influenza-like illness.
This is what the Department of Education is calling the “scalpel approach.” This approach allows school districts within the same county to have different learning models. For example: a county may have several school districts within its boundaries which would give them all the same county base data; however, when each of the school districts review their community data and school data, their viral spread might be vastly different. As a result, some of the districts in that county may need to move to distance learning while others can remain in hybrid or in person. This scalpel approach is why some school districts that have high county-level case data are still operating in an in-person or hybrid learning model.
Currently, our local school data indicates that we can remain in our “K-6 in-person” and “7-12 hybrid” models. Our data does not indicate substantial, uncontrolled community spread is occurring and/or there is a significant degree of impact on the school community, with large-scale outbreaks occurring among students and staff. This is not to say that Covid-19 has not hit our district. We have had confirmed cases, and we have several students and staff quarantining daily due to being considered close contacts of a confirmed case. While our situation is currently “manageable” and allowing us to stay in our current models, the increase in numbers locally and in Otter Tail County have us continuously preparing for the possibility of a change in learning models. Our school district’s goal has been to provide the “in person” learning model for our elementary students, as we understand the importance of that with our youngest learners.
Our partnership with our families in this work is critical. Thank you for your continued support and understanding during these challenging times. We will continue to keep you updated on any decisions or changes being made in any of our schools.