The Pierz community has seen a sharp increase in positive COVID cases over the past few weeks. We posted some information last week to keep you informed and share the data that we see. We are adding more information to update you with our facts as of today, Thursday, March 25.
The District maintains the goal of in-person learning. We know it is the best learning model, and we believe we are doing the best service for the most students, even though clearly it creates added challenges and work for many staff.
The Schools are:
We embrace parenting and community support to help us continue to have school. That includes:
Thank you for helping us get this far and finish this final stretch. Thanks to all our staff who continue to show up nonstop to make it work and implement many added rules and duties that are out of our control.
We have about 40 days left in this school year; let’s finish strong together. The Pioneer Way is to confront challenges and overcome obstacles: that is the part we can control.
In the past two weeks, the Morrison County COVID numbers have continued to rise rapidly, with the Pierz area specifically being of concern.
There is a lot of misinformation circling currently. Here are the facts of this recent uptick so far:
On March 1: The Morrison County 14-day case rate was 13.9. Pierz zip code cases were at 5; Hillman, 0; Buckman, 0; ISD 484, 0 cases
On March 11: The Morrison County 14-day case rate jumped to 28.4. Pierz zip code cases were at 34; Hillman, 9; Buckman, 0; ISD 484, 12 cases
On March 18: The Morrison County 14-day Case rate is now at 50.75. Pierz zip code cases have jumped to 73; Hillman, 18, Buckman, 3; ISD 484 has 21 active cases in our buildings.
We should not be surprised that we are seeing this resurgence. We knew there were additional, more contagious, strains working their way across the United States. The virus is (still) in our community. We still need to take all the precautions: masks, hand washing, social distancing.
As of today, we have approximately 200 students out due to Covid infection or contact tracing. Students who are positive can come back 10 days after their symptoms began, or 10 days after their positive test if they are asymptomatic. Students who are contact traced can return to school after 7-14 days depending on their circumstances. We know this won’t last forever. We know we will have students returning soon.
We have worked hard to keep students in school. We need our families and community to continue to do the same. If you (or anyone in your home) have symptoms, stay home. If you have test results coming, stay home. If you test positive, stay home. And please--in all these scenarios, let the school nurse know. The more we all work together on this, the more we decrease the chance of spread, exposure and contact tracing.
And yet, we are very fortunate. With 133 staff fully vaccinated, we will be able to continue teaching in-person as our staff will not be required to leave due to contact tracing. We will get over this hump. There is light at the end of this tunnel. We have less than 50 days of school left this year; we can do this, Pioneers!
Due to the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases that have impacted the Pierz area, Pioneer Elementary School and Healy High School will not be in session on Friday, March 19, 2021.
We are taking this day to hopefully provide some relief relative to this rapid spread. This will also allow staff some much needed time to catch up from the challenges the last 10 days have created by the number of students not able to attend school.
Those staff who are saddled with the challenge of teaching students who are at home while teaching those students who are in school simply cannot meet that challenge adequately when the numbers get too large. This is why many districts have gone to permanent 4-day weeks or days off every other week, etc. We, instead, have tried to maximize our in-person time by running our normal school day every day. For the most part, that has been working well and we are getting the most instructional time with the most students. Our goal is to modify it only when we have to, which is what we are faced with now.
We apologize for this inconvenience. We hope this wave passes quickly. We are very, very thankful for the resilience our staff have shown by pushing through these challenges as much as possible and keeping our expectations of learning to a high standard.
We also are very, very thankful students are doing all they can to keep school in session despite the added rules placed upon us. The same thanks goes out to our parents. It is a challenge. It is unfair to be the victim of contact tracing. We can minimize how it affects learning progress by doing all we can to keep the school year rolling and try to get the most out of each day we have.
We (staff, students and parents) can take pride in what we have done. Our challenges have been less than many others. Our combined efforts have yielded very good results across many grade levels, courses, and activities.Compared to what was lost last March, April and May, this school year so far has been very successful. It is not over, but we have made it to mid-March. We have had complete activity seasons, competitions, recent concerts, and we still look forward to the musical next week.
We appear to be blessed with an early spring which may help get more activities outside which also hopefully helps decrease the spread. We remain steadfast in our goal to give our students the best year possible, and we will continue to go above and beyond to get the most out of this school year.
Over the last two weeks we have experienced a significant increase in the number of students and staff who are experiencing Covid symptoms and who are testing positive. Just over a week ago, we had a day with Zero Staff and Zero Students. Today we have 8 positive cases and dozens of other students who had to leave based upon the contact tracing rules.
It is important that we share this information with you so you can implement whatever steps you need to make sure your child can continue to attend school and continue to participate in events.
Pierz Schools have made the commitment to proceed with In-Person Learning, as it has proven to be the most effective method of teaching and learning.
We are committed to giving your children the total school experience, which includes Band, Choir, Musical Performance, FFA competitions, Speech Competitions, in addition to our other clubs and all of our Athletic teams.
We are proud of our staff and students who continue to implement a normal school year and a normal activities year, even though there are a number of rules and precautions and distancing type requirements that make every experience slightly different and slightly more challenging.
We have accepted the fact that there are rules from the MN Dept. of Education as well as the MN State High School League that we must follow regarding the conditions upon which we can teach students and the conditions upon which any activity can be played and implemented.
We instead focus on the enjoyment that we get to have school and the pride in our work to make it successful, despite everything all of us are being asked to do. The next few weeks are going to include Band Concerts, Choir Concerts, Musical, as well as playoffs for Girls Basketball, Boys Basketball and Wrestling. We are going to do everything we can to give your child the total school experience.
Today we want to take this opportunity to give some well-deserved recognition to the critically important role that our Educational Assistants ('paras', in local terminology:) play in our mission. When you move past all the layers of school, in the end, our most noble and practical mission is that all of our children are on track to master the state standards and that all children love learning and embrace the idea of self-improvement. If we can give our parents, community, and nation that outcome, I cannot think of any greater cause or better gift to society—and Pierz Schools is fortunate to have 33 of these gifted individuals, working with our students and staff every day (getting a photo of all of them proves especially challenging as they are ALWAYS on the move!)
We all know that children require intense helping hands and helping hearts. Most average people cannot or would not do that job. It requires levels of patience, perseverance, and setting aside of assumptions that many are not willing to call upon.
Each day you are handed the challenge of finding patience, understanding, and setting expectations for your students that oftentimes might exceed the expectations they've set for themselves. Although a child may need you, many won't say it. Yet, you continue to be there providing support and encouragement.
To our Educational Assistants: I hope you each find a moment to look in the mirror and feel the personal pride you deserve. I likely speak for every teacher, parent, student and community member whose lives you've touched: thank you. We could not do what we do here at Pierz Schools without you.
Students with a close contact exposure can return to school/activities after 7 days IF:
* exposure to someone that is not in the same household
* they test negative
* the test is taken after day 5 of the first contact day
* and are symptom free
Minnesota has opened up at home testing for everyone in MN. You can follow the links below to order test kits for all in your family. Each person must have a unique email address to order the kits. These tests are FREE. Please take advantage of these and have them on hand in case of an exposure.
If all 4 circumstances are not met, return will be after day 10 or as determined by school nurse.
We are excited that MDE has approved the plan we presented to bring students back to school!
We are optimistic as we make these changes—not because the challenges are gone, but because we have some experience and have a stronger sense of what we are up against, how to react, and how not to react to various situations.
We have to assume that the absence of students and staff through new cases and contact tracing will be our most important challenge and most likely the biggest cause of frustration. Covid is not gone. The rules of contact tracing are still the same. Our vigilance to social distancing, reminding students, podding students, and implementing the highest levels of care is as critical in the next month as ever.
It is not a matter of if it happens; rather, it is a matter of how many are forced to leave with each positive case. This is the conversation we need to have with students. It is their team, or their concert, or their friends. The end goal is having school and every event with everyone there.
With that said, here is the return-to-school plan for Pierz Schools:
Dates to note:
Monday, January 11 - Move to Hybrid grades 5-12
Monday, January 18 - In-person, grades 5, 6, 10, 11, 12
Friday, January 22-25 - per current calendar year, these are non student days (PS-12)
Tuesday, January 26 - Preschool returns. PS-4 in person, grades 5-12 no school
Monday, February 1 - In-person, grades 7, 8, 9 (all students PS-12 are in person!)
To further explain our rationale:
We received a waiver on our appeal for starting hybrid Jan. 11. That waiver allowed us to by-pass the state proclamation that schools can only start bringing students back three grades at a time beginning January 18. However, the "three grades at a time" rule made it impossible for us to just be all in-person at the start of the 2nd semester. We were then faced with the issue of having to wait two weeks from whenever we start bringing students back.
—George Weber, Superintendent, Pierz Schools
Students in grades kindergarten through grade 4 will continue with in school learning as they have been. There won’t be any changes to classrooms and teachers until at least the end of the semester on January 22. Pending continued decreases in Covid cases in the school, community and county, we would like to bring preschool back to school at that time, on Tuesday, January 26th.
Students in grades 5-12 will return to a hybrid model where they attend 2 days a week in person and 3 days at home. The schedule will be Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday as assigned in November. If unsure what days your student should attend, students in grades 7-12 can find it in Synergy under student information. Students in grades 5 or 6 can check with their teacher. Attendance in person is required for these school days scheduled in person. Please be sure to contact the office on the days when your student needs to be absent and if it is health related, contact the nurse. You can use the Covid reporting form.
With so many changes in who will be attending in person or at home, we need to start fresh with a new meals survey. If your student is remaining in distance learning, you can still pick up bundled meals for them. Pick up will be Monday and Wednesday from 4:30-5:30 at the MAC door (door 22). You do need to complete a new survey.
Students who are in grades 7-12 are sent a survey each morning they are in the building to ask if they want salad for lunch and a to go meal. Remind your 7-12 students to complete it. You do not need to complete the new meal survey.
Students in grades 5 and 6 will be given a meal at the end of their day here for their next day of at home learning. You do not need to complete the new meal survey.
For students in grades 5 and 6 who need childcare on the days they are not in school, you can email Sarah Funk. Priority will be given to those with both parents classified as essential workers. If your student is currently attending childcare, you should have received an email about scheduling.
While we are excited to bring students into the building for learning, we still are challenged with how to get them here and back home. The rules for contact tracing have not changed; anyone within 6 feet of someone for more than 15 minutes who tests positive is considered exposed and will need to stay home from school. That said, the more parents who can drive their students, the less risk those students will be to being contact traced. Thank you for your continued support.
The announcements from the Minnesota Department of Education that were sent out late in the day on Wednesday, December 16th created many questions for schools throughout Minnesota.
It looked like there were some hard and fast rules regarding bringing students back “only” after January 18th and only in groups of three grades at a time every two weeks.
By Friday morning it looked like there may be some options for certain districts to make the case that there were plans in place for a more aggressive move back than that. Pierz drafted an appeal trying to make that case and we are fortunate that they have allowed some degree of flexibility.
We were approved to go to hybrid already on January 11th and allowed to do all of grades 5-12 at once rather than the “rolling start” model proposed by MDE. In addition, we do not need the minimum two days off/transition days that are also part of that proposal.
There are a number of other changes that are outlined in the latest guidance documents that we are evaluating to determine what we specifically must do. If any of you have looked into all of it, please be assured we will evaluate those that we consider to be, “too much of a change” from what we had been doing, if what we had been doing is working well in terms of staff and student safety.
For now, we want to assure you that we are not going to expect children to make dramatic changes to how we are operating our schools right now. Most of the new updates impact staff and not students, so we will analyze those internally to determine our expectations.
It is important that families continue to communicate with the school nurse about illnesses, symptoms and positive cases as we enter the new year. As we look to return students to the building, the nurse will coordinate the return date for students and staff to ensure risks of spread and exposure are minimal. You can complete this quick and easy form and the nurse will be in touch with you.
January 4-8: Students in grades K-4 will attend every day. Students in grades 5-12 will attend via Distance Learning. Students in grades 5 and 6 who were attending child care will attend child care. If you no longer need child care, please email Sarah Funk or let your classroom teacher know the student will be learning from home. Preschool students will not attend yet.
January 11-15: Students in grades K-4 will attend every day. Students in grades 5-12 will attend on a hybrid schedule of Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. Students in grades 5 and 6 who were attending childcare on their distant learning day will attend child care. If you no longer need child care, please email Sarah Funk or let your classroom teacher know the student will be learning from home. Preschool students will not attend yet.
Busing: Busing continues to pose the greatest challenge for us to maintain the required distance to remove the risk of close contacts. We are so thankful for the parents who are willing to drive their students to and from school to relieve pressure on the bus capacity. Data shows that more students are traced as a close contact on the bus than in the classroom; if you can provide your students with a ride to and/or from school, it is greatly appreciated.
Meals: We will continue to provide meals for students who are learning from home. During the week of January 4th, we will use the survey requests that families submitted in November when we initially moved into Distance Learning for grades 5-12. We understand there were concerns on sending students prior to the holidays, so it is important we start fresh with new information regarding meals.
Whatever you can do to assist in having your child take a meal is very appreciated.
Please complete a new survey prior to January 11th as you determine which of your children will return to school and which students will continue to learn from home. We are asking every family to complete a new meal survey, all previous requests will be disregarded. This will be on the website the first week of January.
The Governor Order issued late in the day on Wednesday, December 16th has changed any January plans for all schools in Minnesota. Schools were not given any prior notice that this proclamation was coming. Pierz, like all schools, is waiting to see the details on what all these changes mean and how we are supposed to proceed. This is what we have been told at this time:
We pledge to explore every possibility that is allowed to bring students back into our schools as soon as we can reasonably do so. We are confident we can continue to reach out to students who are struggling and find creative ways to help.
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