Return to Headlines

Letter from Dr. Jeff Holm, Superintendent

Hello,

 

Many of you may be wondering why the District has, or has not, made changes in the learning model as the data about infections in Kandiyohi County has indicated we are seeing increasing rates of positive COVID-19 cases.  I am writing to attempt to explain the complexity of the decision-making process. I will also describe our plans to deal with days when there is inclement weather.

 Learning Model Decisions

 The State of Minnesota announced the Safe Learning Plan for 2020-21 in late July.  The plan established a five-step process to assist school districts in determining how to provide instruction during the pandemic.  Step one was for the State to utilize data from counties to determine the rate of infections per ten thousand residents over a fourteen-day period of time.

The second step was for the State to provide the county infection rate data and a process of consultations in which school districts could access the expertise of public health and education officials to assist in analyzing each school district’s situation. Step three was for a school district to utilize an Incident Command Team to analyze the school district’s ability to implement the learning model suggested through analyzing the county data and to implement appropriate best health practices.n step four, school districts were required to work with public health officials to determine and communicate the appropriate learning model to use to begin the school year.  Finally, the fifth step in the Safe Learning Plan involves school districts and the Minnesota Department of Health to regularly monitor the community and school-level impact COVID-19 impact and to determine if learning models need to be adjusted.

 Before the school year began, we engaged in the steps mentioned above and determined that it was appropriate for our school district to begin with elementary students attending school in-person and secondary (6-12) attending in a hybrid model.  Parents were allowed to choose distance learning for their children as an option if they were not comfortable with them attending school in-person.  

 After we were in session for a few weeks, we determined that Roosevelt Elementary was experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19 cases, and decided to utilize distance learning for a period of two weeks.  Additionally, we were experiencing many elementary classes in all of our buildings were being required to quarantine for 14 days due to positive cases being identified and close contacts being determined through contact tracing.  When we compared the elementary school data with the data from our secondary schools, we determined that the hybrid model was allowing students to get some in-person instruction with far lesser chances of large numbers of students and staff being impacted by quarantines, so we shifted to the hybrid model for all students. In making each of these decisions we engaged in consultations with the appropriate officials as required by the State’s Safe Learning Plan.

 Kandiyohi County’s 14-day infection rate data has increased significantly in recent weeks, which might lead people to conclude that our schools should be shifting to the distance learning model. The reason we have not done this is that State guidance indicates that county infection rate data should be monitored, but school districts also should be considering data relevant to the conditions in their schools and use data about conditions in local schools to make decisions that are localized. 

 This means that school districts must consider data relative to each specific school building and consider whether there are conditions that suggest that a change in learning models is necessary for safety purposes.  Some points school districts are being asked to consider along with the county infection rate data include, the number of positive cases in a building, how many people are required to quarantine due to close contact with a person who’s COVID-19 positive, and other information such as how many people are experiencing influenza-like symptoms.  We have monitored all of this information and also considered whether or not enough we have sufficient staff to carry out our essential functions.  We will continue to monitor our local conditions and view them with a focus on the overall health and well-being of the students, staff, and our community as a whole.

 Inclement Weather

 You may also be wondering how we will manage snow days during this unusual time.  If they have gone through an approval process, school districts in Minnesota are allowed to declare an E-learning day, during which students learn from home, and districts are not required to make up time lost due to inclement weather.  Willmar Public Schools has not been approved to be an E-learning eligible district at this time. In the future, we will study whether or not our District should apply to utilize up to five days per year as “E-learning days”.

 For this year, if we experience inclement weather, we follow the plan below according to the learning model our district is in at the time.

 

Learning Model

In-Person

Hybrid Model

Distance Learning

Plan

If we can’t safely continue with in-person instruction on an inclement weather day, school will be canceled.   This is our traditional approach.

We would utilize days identified in our calendar to make up the lost time.

We will declare any inclement weather day a distance learning day.  All students will receive instruction at home.  

We would not need to make up any time in this scenario.

Even with inclement weather, we would proceed by providing distance learning for that day.  

We would not need to make up any time in this scenario.

We all have experienced significant changes in virtually all aspects of our lives recently.  You can see that making decisions about how schools operate in a pandemic is no different.  Please understand that our District is committed to providing the best education possible, while also focusing on the health and safety of our students and staff and their families.  Thank you for your patience.

Sincerely,

Dr. Jeff Holm, Superintendent