As coronavirus cases surge, more districts shift back to distance learning

Hastings is among the latest school districts to switch back
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Hastings High School

Hastings High School

Several school districts across the state have announced plans to shift back to distance learning to prevent the spread of the coronavirus as cases skyrocket in Minnesota. 

Thursday, Hastings Public Schools told families beginning Nov. 18, students in grades 5-12 would resume distance learning, with students in grades K-4 beginning distance learning Nov. 30. In both age groups, the change is set to last through at least Dec. 22.

The decision is in line with state recommendations, which say schools should use a "more restrictive learning model when the positivity rate hits 30 per 10,000 in the county," Superintendent Robert McDowell wrote

The current positivity rate per 10,000 is 33.4 in Hastings, and that is projected to grow to the high 40s and low 50s next week, McDowell wrote. 

"We continue to see increases in positive COVID-19 cases in our Hastings community and projections show continued high numbers," he said, adding new cases of COVID-19 in Hastings have almost doubled within the past week. 

Positive cases also jumped two weeks after MEA break, McDowell said, and health officials advise there may be another increase after Thanksgiving break. 

When the rate of positive cases in schools reaches 5%, the spread is considered "significant" according to the MDH. In Hastings, that rate is 8.1%. 

"The number of school staff COVID-related absences have doubled in the past week. And, the number of students out due to COVID related situations or symptoms continues to rise," McDowell wrote. 

Hastings is just one of several districts announcing such a change in recent weeks. 

Wednesday, Cloquet Public Schools announced that beginning Nov. 10, grades 7-12 should shift back to distance learning, with grades K-6 making the move Monday, Nov. 16 (as there is no school for those grades, to allow teachers to transition, from Nov. 12-13). 

"It’s with deep regret that we inform our families and staff of the need to shift to distance learning for all grade levels within Cloquet Public Schools," a letter to families read. "Despite our efforts, COVID rates have increased throughout the county and are in the midst of a rapid spike. This spike has led to large scale quarantine of students and staff and is crippling our ability to provide in-person schooling, along with meeting the other requirements placed upon schools."

About two weeks ago, Anoka-Hennepin schools, the state's largest school district, announced it would move its middle and high school students to distance learning - a move Deputy Education Commissioner Heather Mueller told the Star Tribune was proactive, not necessarily required by certain cases in that area. 

White Bear Lake, Centennial and Spring Lake Park districts are also moving middle and high school students to distance learning in early November. 

In Elk River and Forest Lake, elementary school students are shifting from in-person instruction to a hybrid model. 

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And in the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan and Mounds View districts, officials are warning parents they may have to also shift to distance learning for high school students if the spread continues to increase. 

Masks and social distancing do make a difference in limiting the spread of the coronavirus, Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm reminded listeners on MPR News Friday afternoon.

"That's why you hear us on these press briefings imploring Minnesotans to do their part," Malcolm said. "We can all do our part, and keep up with those core public health principles, of [social distancing], wearing our masks when we're in public, staying at home when we're sick, avoiding large gatherings, and getting tested when it's appropriate to do so." 

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