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.
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.
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
This information is provided so parents and students have a place to go specifically regarding how our schools are required to manage Covid cases and provide you some additional information.
We certainly expect and support anyone with questions to consult their family physician or other medical providers who would have more detailed information regarding your personal conditions or questions.
What happens if there is a case identified in a school?
There are certainly different rules for schools compared to other businesses, not only for our students but also for our staff. In our world, if anyone in a home tests positive, we cannot allow anyone from that home in our schools. So it impacts our staffing capacity all the time.
In the end, most MDH guidelines are centered around stopping any spread. Any place where people gather is a place of high risk of spreading. Our state cannot really govern social gatherings, but they can assert control over schools.
We understand and are living out with you the frustrations of implementing the myriad of MDH expectations for all these scenarios. In the end, the philosophy of MDH is to stop the spread no matter what. So from their perspective; the sacrifices we have to make, in terms of missing school, or being short staffed, or having to teach remotely, or finding childcare and all the other challenges handed us, are all part of our collective effort to stop the virus from spreading. That is their number one priority.
We understand that priority, even if we do not always like what it means in terms of our options.
Why is Hybrid any better than bringing in all the students?
It is the only way a school can comply with the Social Distancing rules. Classrooms are not large enough to seat a classroom of students and keep them 6 feet apart, but if we cut the numbers in half we could hold classes with desks spread apart and make it through a school day complying with the social distance rules at least to some degree. Of course, for each student, it is contingent upon how the students manage themselves all day long in and out of the classroom.
What can Parents and Community Members do to help?
Obviously the number one priority is the safety and health of all in your household. We understand that alone can be challenging with jobs and school and children’s needs and household needs and everything that entails.
But above and beyond that, there are a few things that would make a big difference in terms of helping keep our schools open. We will highlight a few:
Busing -- There is no way around the fact that a Bus ride requires students to be within 6 feet for much longer than 15 minutes. So it will always be one of our ongoing challenges this entire school year. We have asked all in-town students to walk. That is sacrifice when the child is very young. But even that change, and even the terrific help many are showing by bringing in and picking up children still puts lots of students on our buses.
So, any help family and community can provide to bring children to school and home from school will make a big difference. It will help keep your own and many more children in school.
Social Events Outside of School -- One school in our area had an entire wave of cases stem from a large slumber party. We absolutely understand the struggle to give our children what they want. We absolutely respect that these are parental choices to make. But this is a time when we have to weigh everything. All of us do, as our staff are in the same dilemma every hour of every day. So each time we host a gathering for our children or anyone in our home attends social events and locations we are always managing the risk of bringing the virus into our homes. We all hope somehow the school year is able to happen as much and as long as possible without Distance Learning as the only option, and the potential loss of activities. So as we have these conversations with the children and adults in our homes, we are weighing the fun of one event against the potential loss of other events.
Outdoors if Possible -- We understand it is Minnesota -- and now we are losing our summer. But anything outside with lots of fresh air always, getting rid of the viral load in the air around us, is far, far better, if there needs to be a social gathering. In some respects, that might be the difference between our summer of very low county numbers compared to what is happening now.
There is no school October 7 and October 8 for grades 7-12.
There is no school October 9 for PK-12, this was a scheduled workshop day.
Students in grades 7-12 will change to a hybrid schedule starting October 12. Students will receive a schedule designed by bus routes and attend in person either Monday and Thursday or Tuesday and Friday. All students will attend via Distance Learning platform on Wednesdays and the opposite days of their in-person days. View calendar here to see October schedule of black/red days.
Starting Monday, October 12, students at Healy can grab lunch for days when they will be at home distance learning during the hybrid learning model. Each morning, students will fill out their request form, and pick up their lunches at the end of the day. All the information has been shared with students, but a reminder from parents never hurts:) All the information in on the Lunch Grab and Go Slideshow
Executive Order 20-82 indicates that a school district or charter school that operates a hybrid or distance learning model “must provide school-aged care for Eligible Children at no cost during the time those children are not receiving instruction in the school building during regular school hours.”
The school-age care for children of critical workers is intended for extreme circumstances in which no parent or guardian is at home, due to employment as a critical worker. If it is a two-parent household and one is not a critical worker, the school is not required to provide free school-age care to the family. It is our hope that we will have the capacity to provide care for those who need it; please complete the survey sent from your classroom teacher. View the list of Tier 1 critical workers here.
Due to COVID-related circumstances, we will have to temporarily close fifth grade to in person learning immediately. We plan to have 5th graders back in school starting Tuesday September 29. This means some inconveniences for all of us. We will have parent pick of materials, Chromebooks and other homework tomorrow, 9/21, from 3-4:30 PM behind Pioneer Elementary near the preschool playground. Teachers will be contacting families directly on Monday and Tuesday this week, ensuring their child is ready for distance learning. Again, based on the information we have now, it is our plan to have 5th graders back for in-person learning on Tuesday, September 29.
Update - due to an additional case, 5th graders will now be back in school no later than Monday, October 5.
News and Updates
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