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Crookston Schools Superintendent Olson: 'We are discussing our options'

Mike Christopherson
Crookston Times

    With COVID-19 cases in Polk County surging and currently far exceeding the threshold set by the state for the learning model being implemented in Crookston Public Schools, Superintendent Jeremy Olson, asked by the Times if a change in the learning model was imminent, said, “We are discussing our options.”

    The Crookston School Board will hold a special meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday. The agenda includes a resolution to “Approve Learning Model.”

    Since the start of the school year, the local public schools have been using the learning model that has in-person learning for kindergartners through sixth-graders and hybrid learning for grades 7-12 at the high school, with “blue” and “gold” in-person instruction days mixed with distance learning from home.

    The state’s “Safe Learning Plan” released in advance of the start of the school year includes five learning models that range from model #1, in-person learning for all students, to model #5, distance learning for all students. Model #2, in-person learning for elementary students and hybrid learning for secondary students, is what Crookston Public Schools has been implementing so far this school year. Model #3 has hybrid learning for all students, and model #4 has hybrid learning for elementary students and distance learning for secondary students.

    The models are based on a county’s average number of COVID-19 cases per capita over the most recent 14-day period that numbers are available. Last week in Polk County, that number was 113.3, far above the threshold for even model #5 – all distance learning – that is recommended to kick in when a county’s average case number over 14 days is 50 or more.

    Daily COVID-19 cases in Polk County reported by the Minnesota Department of Health since the most recent 14-day data indicate that the next 14-day average case report will be significantly higher than 113.3.

    Olson continues to consult frequently with Polk County Public Health Director Sarah Reese. In establishing learning model #2 in the local public schools at the start of the school year, Olson told the school board that if a school district’s case numbers exceeded the threshold for the learning model currently in place, it wouldn’t mean an automatic change in the learning model would be required, and that it would spur a “conversation” between district leadership and public health experts. But if a school district stuck with the same learning model even if current COVID-19 case numbers strongly indicated that a learning model change should take place, Olson added at the time, the state could potentially step in.

    Other schools in Polk County are in a similar boat. Fisher Schools recently went to all distance learning, but for only a two-week period. The Grand Forks Herald reported earlier this week that a change in learning model was “imminent” in the East Grand Forks School District and that leadership there is starting to plan for a possible transition to a learning model that’s entirely distance-based. The school board in East Grand Forks will discuss their learning model further when they next meet on Nov. 13, the Herald reported.

    Meanwhile, Olson notified CHS parents via instant alert Tuesday evening that an individual at the high school had tested positive for COVID-19.

    Just before press time Wednesday, Olson issued the following statement to district parents and guardians updating the situation:

    “The intention of this communication is to inform you about the total number of in-school positive cases of COVID 19 to date since the beginning of the school year and to let you know that parents and families must be prepared for a short duration distance learning period in the near future.

    “Our 14-day Polk County case rate moved to 113.32 last week. This indicates extensive community spread within our community. While I know that we communicated a framework from the Governor earlier this year, we are being encouraged to use local data to make decisions on school rather than just the county case rate. Based on the current local school-based data, we have not experienced the massive disruptions we had expected considering the current case rate and therefore have been able to stay in our original model. I believe much of this is due to the mitigation strategies that are in place in our schools along with the great support that we have had from families in carrying out these mitigation strategies.

    “This 14-day case number along with the concerns about being fully staffed due to staff being unable to work due to close contacts or quarantine is a very real concern and necessitates the possibility that we may have to, in the near future, put in place a 14-day or more distance learning period. What we have experienced currently does not necessitate a model change; however, I want everyone to be prepared in case we have to use this measure. I believe that we are extremely close to having to use a short-term distance learning period and my advice would be to start planning now if you have not already done so. We will attempt to give you adequate notice, however, please be prepared that it could be extremely short notice. We are asking parents to plan out what they would do if a school within the district or the entire district needed to enter a short-term distance learning period.

    “Notifications of Positive Cases: We continue to track our positive COVID-19 cases by school building. I do want to clarify that these are positive cases as defined by MDH which means that a person was in a school during the infectious period. Students or staff that are not in school during their infectious period are not counted per MDH reporting definitions.”