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.
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
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.
Our schools have had an interesting week as we have discussed and considered how we could start to bring back some of the students who have been in Distance Learning since early November. This is a very emotional issue for parents that see the frustration and sadness in their child who feels deprived of their normal school experience or might be struggling academically or emotionally.
Our staff, many of whom have their own children in the district, also feel this deep frustration and would do most anything to take that away. Our teachers have done amazing activities in some of the most challenging classes to teach online or maintain social distance, yet have achieved good experiences and positive results for our students.
Through the year, Pierz Schools has looked at our data, our challenges, and we are constantly trying to find every avenue possible to deliver this school experience that we know the students want.
In some respects, it seems that our willingness to constantly evaluate the data and even push past the recommendations of MDH has created some waves one way or the other. I do not believe there is another school bordering Pierz currently that is bringing in any K-12 children. Our staff, board and community has always taken some degree of pride in trying to do whatever we can to push success in our schools and community, regardless of what the “mainstream” might be doing. We have brought in K-4 children every day even when our county ratio was over 200. Right or wrong, we have pushed it. It is very easy for me to say we have more employees at every level putting in more hours and taking on additional duties than ever.
Our data is getting better. November was exceedingly challenging for many in our community as our local data became extremely high. Even with our current drop in local Covid cases, the Pierz zip code still has one of the higher ratios in our county.
We understand we might be taking some degree of risk, when compared to what others are doing, yet are willing to consider the value in providing some days of in-person learning for students prior to the holiday break. There are opinions on that idea from all sides. It is a credit to our staff and board to even consider it right now. As we work through the details of how we can do this, we have made it clear we will honor the parent choice of not sending their children to school prior to the holidays if they are concerned about exposure.
As stated in our parent call Thursday night, we are planning on bringing students back in some format. We will confirm the plan on Monday after another review of the latest Covid data and numbers. We are confident and hoping we can do something now. I understand there are already concerns about what happens after that. It is clear the Department of Health and Department of Education does not want schools in Distance Learning to come back in person or hybrid right after the holidays. Morrison County Public Health has also expressed caution that schools should evaluate the impact of potential holiday gatherings on Covid rates, prior to bringing students back to school. So we have that challenge. Again, it appears no district around us is going to move out of distance learning until later in January. We assume we can stay in our current model of having K-4 children learn in person.
We know most anything we do that falls short of bringing in all children every day will be seen and heard and felt as disappointing. I guarantee all of you that our staff and teachers would love that more than anyone. This world of hybrid teaching is turning out to be harder on staff and students than anyone imagined. We want what parents want. The challenges are 'how' and 'when'.
We truly appreciate the extraordinary help from parents and staff and all community members who are pitching in to care for children and support children throughout this whole journey. Thank you.
A new survey form has been created in an effort to make it easier to file a report with the district nurse. You can find the form on the district nurse page as well as on each Parent Page under Healy and Pioneer. Communicating potential COVID symptoms and exposure along with positive cases help the district understand the data we are receiving from the state and county. The health and safety of students and staff remains at the forefront of all decisions made in learning models and accurate data is key.
If your student has symptoms, a close contact or a positive test result, you can report it here and will receive a follow up call from the nurse's office.
Our county and our community just endured the worst COVID-case month ever. We all pray that the worst is over. According to our latest County Public Health meeting, there have been a total of 32 Covid related deaths in Morrison County, 22 of them in November. Our collective thoughts go out to all families affected by this pandemic.
Pierz Schools continues to work hard to provide children and families the stability of a school year as much as possible. We are still bringing in our K-4 children daily and strive every day to make that work.
We are pleased about some positive changes to our community data that hopefully can continue to trend in that same direction over the next few weeks.
When we look at the 14-day Case Rate dates for the Pierz zip code, our numbers were as follows: 56, 90, 168, and 132 for each Thursday in November from Nov. 5 to Nov 25. Today’s Dec. 3 report is 89 positive cases. The Hillman zip code showed a similar trend.
We have also encountered some relief with our staff. In November, we ranged from 7% to 12% of teachers gone at various times that month. As of today we are at 5%.
The fact that grades 5-12 children are not attending impacts the student data we monitor relative to positive tests and more importantly close contacts. We still are seeing some hope in a decrease, although that is more challenging to measure when so many students are not attending.
We truly want children in school and feel that is the goal of most families as well. There are a few areas where we continue to ask for (and thank you for) your help. Obviously, while your children are at home, we need all the support we can to encourage students to stay online and complete their work and engage with their teacher. But two other areas are also critical:
--George Weber, Superintendent
The Pierz area, including the staff working in our schools are enduring more Covid related challenges than ever. We all feel for the toll this is taking on families, elderly, medical staff and all those impacted. Because of our current staffing challenges, Pierz will have to go to Distance Learning for Grades 5 through 12 starting next Monday, November 16. The hybrid model for 5-12 students will continue this Tuesday, November 10, through Thursday, November 12, for all those students who were scheduled to attend school on those days.
Students in grades 5-12 will not have any school this Friday, as our teachers will use that as a transition day to build the daily schedule for students that will begin on Monday, November 16 from home.
Grades Kindergarten through 4th grade will continue in-person learning and attend school each day. We are trying to keep in person for Grades K-4 as long as possible and hope our staffing shortages can be targeted toward those grades, while the others are in Distance Learning.
We also hope this is temporary and our community can somehow see decreases after a few weeks. We will stay with this 5-12 Distance Learning model through the Thanksgiving break with a goal of moving back to at least partial in-person for some of those grades if possible as we evaluate our options for staffing and the community data regarding Covid.
If parents want to pick up a meal for their child while in Distance Learning, we will make that option available. A survey will be on the website later this week for parents to sign up for that option.
Activities for students in Grades 9-12 will continue this week. There will be no junior high activities for the remainder of this week. We will evaluate junior high activities for next week and provide an update in that regard.
As Morrison County numbers continue to rise, some districts in our county are implementing changes to their learning models.
Pierz Schools will continue to watch the Pierz and Hillman zip codes along with the number of positive cases for students and families in our school. For now, the data for our district zip codes is holding steady as it has the past 3 weeks for our specific area. We thank our community and families for that, and are grateful for the families who can provide transportation to your students each day; our efforts to reduce capacity on the busses will also reduce contact tracing and slow the spread. Now more than ever, we continue to ask you to be careful, stay away from at-risk events, and reduce your risk of exposure. Now more than ever, if your child has symptoms, keep them home.
All of us have the goal of implementing “in-person” learning as long as possible, assuming we can adequately staff it and provide stability for families. That is one of the reasons why we went hybrid for 7-12; this model increases social distancing which cuts down on contact tracing-- eliminating the abrupt removal of so many students when there is a positive case or possible exposure.
It is also worth noting: the MDH guidelines for learning models based on 14-day case rates are not mandated, but instead one of the data points all districts should consider, in addition to other school and community information. As with all data during this unprecedented time, we have pivoted as we know more about how the virus is spread; we, along with all MN counties, are looking more closely at case rates by zip codes and buildings.
At this point, we hope we can stay the course with what we are doing right now. Each moment, we collectively do our best, and we do what seems to be the smartest decision at the time.
To view the process of how the data is used to determine if we move from one model to another, click here
The decision to take a test is a medical decision made by the family of students or made by the adults involved including staff. MDH will make recommendations. But the decision is made by the individual.
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