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.
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.
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