More schools are shifting to distance learning for all grade levels as the number of COVID-19 cases in communities across Minnesota continues to soar.
Earlier in the school year, some districts only moved older students to full-time distance learning. But as coronavirus case rates rise above the threshold that requires distance learning in dozens of counties. districts have made the difficult decision to shift even their youngest learners to online instruction.
Eastern Carver County Schools will shift to all distance learning for students in Kindergarten through 12th-grade starting next week, the district announced Monday after the school board voted to approve the shift.
Students won't have school on Nov. 16 and Nov. 17 so staff can plan for distance learning (except for La Academia and Kinder Academy students, who are already in distance learning). The first day of all distance learning will be Nov. 18.
"We anticipate remaining in that learning model through winter break, which ends Friday, Jan. 1," the district said in a Facebook post. "Athletics and activities will continue unless the state mandates further restrictions."
This change comes after county data changed "dramatically," the district said. Carver County's latest infection rate was 25.59 cases per 10,000 (up from 18.81 the week prior), though that is from data through Oct. 24, since when infections have increased dramatically in Minnesota. The threshold for distance learning is 50 or more cases per 10,000.
"This is not a decision that was made lightly," Superintendent Lisa Sayles-Adams said in a statement on the district's website says. "Public health data shows a dramatic, exponential increase in positive cases at the state, county, and local levels. We are seeing the same numbers in our district data, with quarantines of students and staff placing additional stressors on our system. Staffing to fill these absences is not possible given the shortage of substitutes."
The Minnesota Department of Health's (MDH) website shows one school in the district – Chanhassen High School – has had an outbreak of five or more COVID-19 cases among students and staff over a two-week period. Since the school year began, 51 COVID-19 cases have been reported among students and staff in the district since the school year began, the district's dashboard shows.
Nearby Shakopee Public Schools is also making a shift to full distance learning.
Last week, the district announced middle and high school students would move to full-time distance learning starting Nov. 20 after case numbers reached 37.32 per 10,000 (up from 29.15 the week prior).
But then after COVID-19 case numbers continued to climb in Scott County over the weekend, the school board decided Monday to move all Shakopee elementary school students from hybrid to distance learning starting Nov. 30.
The last day of hybrid learning for students in kindergarten through fifth-grade will be Nov. 20 so staff can plan for distance learning prior to the Thanksgiving break, school board meeting documents show.
As of Nov. 2, there have been 67 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among students and staff since the school year began, the district's website shows.
Roseville Public Schools are also shifting to distance learning for all students after "sharp increases" in COVID-19 cases in Ramsey County.
Ramsey County's latest infection rate is 34.07 cases per 10,000, up from 31.03 the week prior.
The district started the school year with all distance learning and was slowly transitioning students to hybrid learning, with only students in pre-K through third-grade receiving some in-school instruction with plans to transition students in grades fourth- through sixth-grade in the near future.
But the district said last week that it would be pausing the transition to blended learning for students in fourth- through sixth-grade, so they will continue with full-time distance learning. And it would transition students in pre-K through third-grade back to full-time distance learning starting Nov. 16.
Meanwhile, Harambee Elementary School went to full-time distance learning for kindergarten through sixth-grade on Monday, according to the Minnesota Department of Education's website. This decision was made because too many staff members are currently in quarantine or isolation, the district said.
According to the district's website, there have been five COVID-19 cases among students and eight among the staff so far this year (as of Nov. 5). As of Oct. 30, 213 students and 84 staff were in isolation or quarantine.
Other schools shifting learning models
These are among the latest school districts to change learning models as COVID-19 cases surge in Minnesota (more on this below). In the past few weeks, several other schools have made the decision to move to distance learning for some or all grades.
Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan said in late October that it would shift all middle and high school students to 100% distance learning on Nov. 12.
Osseo Area Schools moved all students in grades 6-12 to distance learning on Nov. 9, while keeping elementary grades in the hybrid-learning model.
Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest district, moved middle and high school students to distance learning on Nov. 4.
Statewide, 19% of schools are doing strictly distance learning, according to the Minnesota Department of Education's Safe Learning Model Dashboard. Twenty-one percent of schools are using the hybrid-learning model and 15% are doing in-person learning. Meanwhile, 45% of schools are doing some combination of the learning models. (This data is based on information public and charter school districts reported to the state education department as of Nov. 10.)
This is a shift from late September when COVID-19 cases weren't as prominent in the state. At that time, 24% of schools were doing hybrid learning, 23% were doing in-person learning, 14% were doing strictly distance learning and 40% were doing some combination of the three.
As of Thursday, Nov. 5, 70 schools in Minnesota reported having five or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in students or staff who were in the building while infectious during a two-week reporting period, the Minnesota Department of Health's website shows.
Minnesota infections rapidly rising
Minnesota has seen a rapid rise in new cases, including nearly 6,000 reported Sunday by the Minnesota Department of Health. The increase is partially tied to more testing being done, but it can't be solely attributed to testing advancements because the positivity rate is also surging upward.
For example, in Sunday's update from the state health department, there were nearly 45,000 completed tests from around 21,000 people (people are often tested multiple times). The test positivity rate when dividing the number of new cases by total tests completed was around 13% for the day, which has been common in recent daily reports.
According to Johns Hopkins University, Minnesota's percent positive rate over the past seven days is 13.5%. The World Health Organization recommended in May that a percent positive rate should stay below 5% for at least two weeks before governments consider reopening.
The disease is now widespread in all parts of Minnesota, with 34 counties exceeding 50 cases per 10,000 residents through Oct. 24, which marks the end date for the latest report from the health department that helps school districts decide which learning model – in-person, hybrid or distance learning – is the safest option for students and staff. Schools located in counties that are at the 50 cases per 10,000 threshold are advised to transition all grades to distance learning.