COVID outbreaks enact local district safety protocols

Published: Nov. 15, 2021 at 7:25 PM CST
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OLMSTED COUNTY, Minn. (KTTC) – Class is in session at John Adams Middle School, but not all students are in the classroom. Multiple south east Minn. schools had to enact different COVID outbreak policies this past week, and some students had to temporarily switch back to distance learning.

It means 12-year-olds, like Hannah Larsen, will learn at the kitchen table for the next two weeks.

“It’s like going to school, but at home,” John Adams Middle School student Hannah said.

“It’s obviously showing that COVID isn’t over,” Hannah’s mom, Julie said.

Rochester Public Schools said its policy is to virtual learning when 50 percent of a class is sick or needing to quarantine due to COVID-19.

“I was in my last period and like 12 to 13 people were in a class,” Hannah said.

According to RPS Superintendent Kent Pekel, John Adams hit 47 percent Friday.

“We just have crazy high rates in our community right now,” Pekel said. “And so, we can’t expect our schools to be exempt form that.”

So, RPS made the call. Friday, the district sent an email to families, announcing the entire grade would learn from home for the time being.

“50 percent is not a magic number,” he said. “We were at a point where its safer for the kids to move to distance learning and we did that with full agreement of the teachers and school leadership.”

A class at Byron Intermediate School are also temporarily switching to distance learning this week.

“This is really the first time we’ve seen it really get passed student to student, as it was in this classroom,” Byron Public Schools Superintendent Mike Nuebeck said.

The singular classroom of about 22 students reached four cases over the weekend. Byron’s policy is when a classroom hits a five percent positivity rate, students will learn from home.

“I don’t want to cause up any huge alarms,” Nuebeck said. “I think that a lot of schools across the state are facing this. Its all about our practices and our policy when we get to this number here’s what we are doing.”

Hannah doesn’t mind learning from home, in fact she enjoys it. This time around, class is running smoother -- and she enjoys sleeping in rather than waking up early to catch the bus. Her mom, Julie, said having one kid home, compared to having three at home like she did last year, makes a world of difference.

“It’s so much easier,” she said. “It was really hard last year.”

Julie is an advocate for COVID vaccinations.

“It definitely shows that the vaccines aren’t 100 percent, but they are definitely helping compared to last year,” Julie said.

While distance learning may be less foreign to students, educators and families, the message from educators is clear.

“The sooner we can get to very high rates of vaccination, the better off we will be,” Pekel said.

John Adams students return to in person on Nov. 29. Byron students will be back in the classroom Nov. 22.

Elementary students and staff in Chatfield will be wearing masks until at least Thanksgiving. That mitigation effort is required when the school reaches a three percent positivity rate.

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