Dear Northfield Public Schools Families,
I hope this message finds you healthy, safe, and somewhat optimistic. Warmer temperatures are in the forecast and the local COVID-19 infection rate is continuing to improve. Today’s update contains information about Governor Walz’s recent changes to the State’s Safe Learning Plan, a vaccination update, and spring break.
Governor Walz’s Announcements and the Safe Learning Plan
Yesterday, Governor Walz announced modifications to the Safe Learning Plan to get middle and high school students back onto school campuses in at least a hybrid model. There are still many districts, mostly in the metro area, where students have still been in distance learning. As you know, Northfield has had our middle and high school students back on campus in the hybrid model since February 2, 2021.
The modifications are based on the updated school guidance from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). In short, the changes that most impact our school district are:
Reduce the required physical distancing for students at the middle and high school level from six feet to three feet.
Reduce the influence that county-level data has on school learning model decisions and elevates the “influenza-like illness” rate as an indicator. Schools with five percent (5%) or more of their students out of school due to influenza or COVID-19 symptoms would consult with the Minnesota Department of Health regional support team to determine a temporary learning model change.
We will review the updated safe learning plan before making any decisions about how the changes could impact our learning models. Since last March, we have learned to review all new guidance thoroughly before making decisions. I anticipate communicating any changes that result from the new guidance by February 26.
We are on track to have every regular staff member and substitute interested in vaccination to have their first dose by this weekend. Once again, we thank Northfield Hospital+Clinics for prioritizing our educators so we can move toward a predictable staffing pattern. A predictable staffing pattern is a significant component of keeping our students on campus.
According to the CDC, a small percentage of people experience symptoms that could impact their ability to work following their second dose. Because most of our staff vaccinations were completed within a short time frame, we are creating contingency plans should we have a situation where enough staff become temporarily ill after their second dose. These plans could include shifting to distance learning or canceling school for the day. This short-term inconvenience will be worth the longer-term benefits that staff vaccination will have for the District.
There is also new guidance that would eliminate quarantine requirements due to close contact with a positive COVID-19 case for those who have had both doses of a COVID-19 vaccine. This new guidance is significant in mitigating staffing shortages due to COVID-19 exposure.
Finally, it is critical to understand that vaccination does not equate to 100% immunity, nor does it mean that vaccinated people can stop following safety protocols like masking social distancing, and avoiding large gatherings.
The District’s spring break is March 22-26, 2021 (and no school on March 29 due to a teacher workday.) We are concerned there could be an increase in cases as people return from spring break trips. In the ten days after the New Year’s holiday, we experienced 21 new cases among Northfield High School students. While the District would not presume to tell families what to do, we do humbly ask you to review the CDC and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) recommendations about travel.
Once again, thank you for your cooperation during this unwieldy school year. Your partnership has allowed us to navigate the journey as well as could be expected. We are grateful for your support and are hopeful that the end of this pandemic is in sight. Let’s continue to treat each other well and take care of our community.
Matt Hillmann, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools