***en Español***

Dear Northfield Public Schools Families,

Before I begin my regular update, I need to share some news that I wish I never have to share with families. Earlier this week, we learned about the heartbreaking death of Northfield High School junior Lilly O’Donnell due to injuries sustained in a car accident. The student support team (including counselors, social workers, our high school nurse, and administrators) assisted high school students to begin processing this painful news.

While Principal Leer had already shared this news with high school families, I want to make sure our broader school community heard it as well. When a young person dies, our children process their grief – whether they knew the individual or not – in different ways. As a community, we can support each other in the grieving process. This resource from the National Association of School Psychologists is helpful for adults who are addressing grief with children. 

Our community mourns this tragic loss. I invite you to pray with me that Lilly’s family and friends find peace during this most difficult time.

Most Sincerely,


2020-21 Update No. 34 April 9, 2021

Return to in-person learning model update

The District welcomed back middle, high school, and Area Learning Center students for full-time, in-person learning on March 31. Elementary students continue in the full-time, in-person learning model that began on January 19, 2021, for Kindergarten-2nd grade students and February 1 for 3rd-5th grade students.

The district made the return to full-time, in-person learning for several reasons:

  • The state guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) was changed in February. The change in the required physical distancing from six feet to three feet made it possible for the district to host more students on campus.
  • MDE removed the county COVID-19 infection rate per 10,000 residents as the central point of data about learning model decisions.
  • Staff vaccination alleviated the bulk of the district’s staffing variables.

All learning model transitions have their difficulties. While a good option due to the previous guidance and public health circumstances, the hybrid model did not meet the needs of a significant number of students. While there are many positives associated with returning to a full-time learning model for middle, high school, and ALC students, there are also struggles. An increase in the COVID-19 cases and students required to quarantine as a result was expected. We have seen an increase in COVID-19 cases, most notably at Northfield High School. As a result, more students have been quarantined to prevent the further spread of the virus

As of Wednesday, April 7, here is a snapshot of our schools’ data with three key indicators:


Influenza-Like Illness Rate

Students Quarantined Total active cases

Area Learning Center

Not reported

Not reported


Bridgewater Elementary



< 5

Greenvale Park Elementary



< 5

Northfield High School




Northfield Middle School



< 5

Sibley Elementary



< 5

The influenza-like illness rate denotes the percentage of students absent due to symptoms consistent with influenza-like illnesses, including COVID-19. This rate includes positive student COVID-19 cases. The students quarantined column indicates the percentage of students absent due to the need to be quarantined because they were a close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19. The total active cases column indicates the number of student or staff COVID-19 cases reported in the last 14 days.

The pandemic has had a substantial impact on our daily life and the reduction of the number of people we have daily contact with has changed what we consider to be “normal.” It is natural for some students (and adults) to need time to adjust to being around more people. For some middle, high school, and ALC students, seeing more students in their buildings can be overwhelming. It can create re-entry anxiety that much of our society has or will experience as statewide restrictions are reduced. We stand ready to support our students and families in this transition. As we have all year, I want to emphasize that the district follows the state guidelines to keep students as safe as practicable during the pandemic.

While no longer a central factor in our decision-making about what learning model to use, we consistently review the county infection rate data per 10,000 residents. We are closely tracking the recent week-over-week increase in the county infection rate and are monitoring serious concerns about the increased presence of the B117 variant. We disaggregate the county infection data to seek a deeper understanding of our community’s infection level. We continue near-daily discussions with Rice County Public Health and/or MDH to review the current public health situation. Please know that the district is prepared to make additional changes to our learning models if the public health situation deteriorates.

Vaccination for Students

One of the significant differences between the current public health situation compared to the rest of the pandemic is the availability of vaccines. People age 16 or older can register for vaccination. Here are two websites you can use to register yourself and/or your student for a vaccine, should you choose to do so:

Pulse Survey Results

The District administered a third “pulse” survey of parents/guardians and employees. The survey window was open March 12-19, 2021. There were a total of 478 parent submissions. Every comment in the survey has been read. The survey results give us insight into the things we are doing well and the areas we can improve our service to families during this pandemic. Thank you for your input!  You can read the results of the parent survey here.

In summary, parents gave their highest rating to the statements “I receive timely communication on changes that occur at my child’s school” (4.12) and “I am confident that my child’s school is handling the COVID-19 challenge to keep my child safe” (4.02). The areas for the greatest growth opportunity were “I am confident that my child will not fall behind in school” (3.22) and “I receive feedback from my child’s teacher(s) about my child’s learning progress” (3.50).

Our district administration has conducted a review of the data and we are working to identify actions for improvement.

Thank You

I continue to value your cooperation and support as we continue to rise to the challenges of the COVID-19 global health pandemic. We all want to return to normal, and we are getting closer, but there is more and harder work to do. Please continue following the safety protocols that help us mitigate the spread of the virus.

Most sincerely,


Matt Hillmann, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools