Greetings, Northfield Public Schools Families,
Today is the end of the first quarter of the 2020-21 school year. Thank you for your partnership to help us address the challenges presented by the COVID-19 global health pandemic. While our work together has largely led to success in keeping our students in school, you also know from this week’s COVID-19 report sent earlier today that coronavirus infections are accelerating in Rice County, Northfield, and Minnesota.
We continue to work closely with Rice County Public Health (RCPH) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) to analyze our school district infections. Based on a detailed analysis of our current infection pattern, we plan to maintain our current learning models at this time. However, families need to have a plan should we need to make a learning model change. The Make a Plan MN website is an excellent resource to help your family prepare for any changes to our learning models.
We have seen a significant increase in the county infection rate per 10,000 residents over the last few weeks and increased cases among our school community. As a reminder, we are also looking at these additional data to make our decision:
Exclusion of students due to positive COVID-19 cases or close contacts. In most cases, our in-school protocols have been working to mitigate close contact. We have published a dashboard to show our current and cumulative COVID-19 cases.
Is more than five percent (5%) of the school population absent because of influenza-like illness and/or COVID-like illness?
Rice County helps analyze where the increase in cases has occurred. If the rise in cases includes concentrations at a specific location like a long-term care center, prison, another residential facility, this is taken into account.
We are also looking at Northfield’s share of Rice County’s cases as another data point, though not a primary one.
Finally, we must consider our ability to staff our schools effectively. If we are experiencing staffing shortages that make the building difficult to manage, this is also a factor in making a learning model change.
We will continue to do what we can to keep our current learning models. However, the infection data progression is ominous. If we don’t see a decrease in cases very soon, learning model changes are probable. Again, please use the Make a Plan MN web site to ensure your preparation for any learning models changes. Learning model changes may occur at some school buildings and not others, based on the school-level data. Please, please, please follow the standard protocols to help us slow the spread of infection. I have shared these many times, but we must commit to following these protocols:
Wear a face mask when in public or with others outside your immediate household
Wash your hands frequently with hot soapy water or use hand sanitizer when washing your hands is not an option
Maintain physical distancing of six-feet
Stay home when you are ill
Avoid large gatherings. Please be cognizant that small gatherings of family and friends are the primary source of community spread. MDH shares that these circumstances have caused people to relax due to familiarity and not follow safety protocols, especially now that the weather is forcing these gatherings inside.
Get a COVID-19 test if you are exhibiting one more common symptom or two less common symptoms.
School Day Disinfection Changes
I want to alert you to two changes we will make to our disinfection protocols during the school day. Our initial protocols were based on the best information at the time. These changes are being made based on feedback from staff and families and consultation with RCPH and MDH.
We will shift from disinfecting student desks between each class period at the Middle School and the High School to disinfection twice per day. An unintended consequence of the disinfection between each class has been students waiting outside the classroom for this process to be completed, creating larger group gatherings. Even though it is for a short period of time, the cumulative effect could create more close contacts who need to be quarantined if someone tests positive for COVID-19 in that cluster. Everyone has worked hard, but MDH has advised us to prioritize minimizing the clustering of students in the hallway over disinfecting between each class period. For clarity, MDH defines regular cleaning as once per day. We will still exceed that expectation.
If a student is sent home during the day with influenza or COVID-19-like symptoms, we will shift from wiping surfaces to using spray-mist disinfection of the entire classroom. This will require students to be out of that classroom for approximately 15 minutes.
Thank you for your continued support and cooperation. We are entering a critical phase of fighting the coronavirus. Our collective effort is to follow safety protocols that will ultimately determine if we can keep our students in school.
Please keep treating each other with respect, empathy, and grace. This pandemic is stressful, but it will end. When it ends, we want to be proud of how we acted as a community. I have faith in our school community. Let’s keep doing good things for each other.
Matt Hillmann, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools