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.
I am following up to let you know that we indeed are inviting the students in grades 5-12 back in to school on December 17th, 18th, 21st and 22nd.
We acknowledge that this is just before the holiday break and some parents might choose to keep their children at home. We support that decision.
Our goal is to create some experiences for teachers and other staff to touch base with students, to allow students some safe options to interact with each other, and try to meet any other social, emotional, and academic needs of students that could be supported by having them back into the school building for a couple days.
To be clear, this is not an official Learning Model change, but instead our acknowledgement and recognition that Distance Learning is socially challenging for many students, and if we can find a way to support that routine in some safe manner we are willing to do it.
Sixth graders will be coming in person as a whole grade on December 17th and 18th. Fifth graders will be coming in as a whole grade on December 21st and 22nd. This will allow each grade to 'spread out' within the middle school space.
Grades 7 through 12 can come in on the days of the week assigned to them for hybrid in October. Thursday/Monday or Friday/Tuesday.
More details regarding schedules for students on those days, will be forthcoming on the website and/or other communication from teachers or principals. Thank you.
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
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