Dear Northfield Public Schools families,
I hope this message finds your family healthy and safe. These certainly are trying times (especially with winter making an earlier-than-necessary appearance this week.) We acknowledge the difficulties we face while having optimism that there are better days ahead. Together, we will continue our collective efforts to combat the COVID-19 global health pandemic. I appreciate your ongoing partnership and support.
Today’s update includes information about learning model decision-making, COVID-19 communication changes, winter weather decision-making, information about the opening of the roundabout at Highway 246 and Jefferson Parkway, and an invitation to apply for substitute positions within the District. There is a lot of information in this update and I ask you to read all of it.
Learning model decision-making
We have seen the Rice County infection rate surpass 20 for each of the last two weeks. While the Rice County infection rate per 10,000 residents is a primary data point, it is but one data factor. The evolution of other relevant data points has impacted how the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and county public health departments consider learning model change recommendations. A few items that are part of the analysis:
- Exclusion of students due to positive COVID-19 cases or close contacts. So far, our COVID-19 cases have resulted in minimal exclusions beyond the infected individual. In large part, it is due to the safety protocols we have in place at our schools. We have published a dashboard to show our current and cumulative COVID-19 cases.
- Is >5% of the school population absent because of influenza-like illness + COVID-like illness?
- We are also looking at Northfield’s share of Rice County’s cases. Through the first 1,583 cases (as of 10/20/2020), 71% were Faribault residents and 20% were Northfield or Dundas residents (the remaining 9% are Lonsdale/Morristown/Webster.) While we have several hundred open-enrolled students from Faribault, the majority attend our middle and high school, so we wouldn’t take that into as much consideration for an elementary learning model change as we might for the middle and high schools.
- MDH also recommends two-to-three data points before making any learning model change and will consider the population (long-term care, prison, general community spread) as part of their advice on a learning model change.
We also know, to this point, that the cases we have experienced in our schools do not appear to have been transmitted at school. This point is something we are reviewing with each case and would impact any learning model change. We also watch and chart the county infection data each day.
We intend to provide a safe and healthy school environment at school while also avoiding “boomeranging” families in and out of learning models. We will continue to prioritize the health of our students and staff by a complete data set to make learning model decisions.
At this point, we will maintain our current learning models. We will continue to monitor the data and collaborate with Rice County Public Health.
However, we must be vigilant and follow the protocols for public health. Please make sure to wear a mask when in public, wash your hands frequently, maintain social distancing, and stay home when you are ill. It will be our collective effort to limit the spread of COVID-19 that gives us the best chance to keep students in school.
Also, please make sure your family has a plan if we have to shift learning models. The tools available through the Make a Plan MN website are excellent. The District will likely need two planning days to change learning models to allow staff to implement the protocols associated with the new learning model.
COVID-19 Communication Changes
Based on feedback from families and staff, the District will modify the way it communicates about laboratory-confirmed cases within the school district beginning today. We will no longer send the MDH general notification letter for each laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case to school families. The MDH general notification is optional and technical in nature. Districts are directed to avoid altering the notification template. We will continue to aim for an appropriate balance of transparency and protecting the privacy of our community members who have contracted the novel coronavirus. In place of sending a general notification letter for each case, the District will:
- Expand our dashboard to include a column indicating the last time each school’s data was updated.
- Send a weekly COVID-19 update to families each Friday with the total number of new cases reported in the previous week. This message will include a link to the District’s dashboard.
- Those identified as “close contacts” to an individual with a laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 case will still be personally contacted via telephone and email.
Winter Weather Decision Making
With winter weather making an early appearance, I want to share the way we make decisions about delaying or canceling school. I encourage you to review the District’s school alerts page. This page explains our decision-making process for delaying the start of school, closing school early, and canceling school due to winter weather conditions. I also encourage you to pay special attention to the start times for school should we ever have a late-start on a Wednesday morning. In the case of a two-hour late start on a Wednesday, PLCs are canceled and we follow the normal schedule that would be used for a two-hour late start.
Once again, we will use e-Learning days this year beginning with the third full-day cancellation of school for weather-related purposes. You can read more about the District’s e-Learning plan here. Please note that the e-Learning plan will be adjusted based on our COVID-19 learning models.
Roundabout Opens Today
The new roundabout at the intersection of Highway 246 and Jefferson Parkway will open today. We are all thrilled about the completion of this highway improvement project!
In addition to the improvements for vehicle traffic flow, the tunnels below the roundabout will make pedestrian and bicycle traffic safer. We invite students and their families to try out this new option for getting to school or around the community!
Would you like to make a difference for kids? Northfield Public Schools has openings for substitute custodians, educational assistants, nurses, and teachers. For substitute teachers, you can qualify for a short-call substitute license if you have a four-year degree in an area. Please see our website for more details. Join our team today!
Once again, thank you for your continued support and grace as we work to serve your students during the COVID-19 global health emergency. The pandemic will end one day and we want to be proud of how we handled it as a community.
Matt Hillmann, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools