Following news last week that someone at the Orono Intermediate School tested positive for COVID-19, the school decided to switch to distance learning for 14 days, starting Tuesday.
In a letter to families, which was forwarded to BMTN, school officials said the school, which serves students in grades 3-5, would switch from hybrid to distance learning after four more cases of COVID-19 within the school have been confirmed.
The school called this a "very difficult decision," noting it decided to move to distance learning based on additional health data shared with the district, the number of staff impacted by COVID-19 quarantine protocols, and the inability to maintain hybrid classrooms with proper student-to-space ratios and social distancing.
"This decision was not made lightly. We are taking this action to protect the health and safety of our students, staff, and families with the goal of returning our students to campus under the hybrid model as soon as possible," the letter said.
Those who have tested positive for the virus, are awaiting test results and have been identified as close contacts of someone with a confirmed case of COVID-19 had previously been asked to stay home.
School at Orono Intermediate School was canceled Tuesday to give staff time to pivot to distance learning. Classes will resume online on Wednesday, and the school plans to reopen to hybrid learning on Monday, Oct. 12. The district notes that could change depending on the status of COVID-19 in the school community and further guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health.
Students at Orono Schumann Elementary, Orono Middle School and Orono High School are not affected by this and will continue in their current learning models, the letter notes.
The district asks that students and staff report any new symptoms of illness, pending COVID-19 test results or known COVID-19 test results to the school health office.
Last week's COVID-19 case was the first of the school year. However, over the summer there was a reported case in the district's Early Childhood Program, at which time families in the program were notified.
Orono Public Schools started the 2020-2021 school year on Sept. 8, offering hybrid learning for students with the option of full-time distance learning. The district's back to school plan says the district's health team will work with state and local health officials on contact tracing to determine close contacts, the need to notify others in the classroom or program and the risk level, noting each situation is different and will be handled on a case-by-case basis.
BMTN has reached out to Orono Public Schools for more information.
This comes as some other districts in the state have been forced to switch to distance learning amid outbreaks within the school community, including schools in Brainerd, and as some of the state's larger districts in the Twin Cities metro, which started the year with distance learning, make plans to move into more in-person classes. Read more about that here.