Dear Northfield School District Families,
As we prepare for the upcoming school year, we celebrate that we are in a much better place than we were last August. The pandemic is impacting our planning for school, but not as dramatically as it did last summer. Unfortunately, a recent upward trend in COVID-19 cases in Minnesota and Rice County caused by the delta variant is playing more of a role in our planning than we would like.
Today, I am sharing the safety protocols we plan to use as we start the school year. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the district has pledged to use the guidance from medical and public health experts to inform its decision-making. Based on that guidance and our experience, we are able to have far fewer restrictions compared to last year along with using a “layered” approach to virus mitigation. The Board of Education will be asked to approve these safety measures at their meeting on Monday.
Our priority has been and will continue to be the health of our community and in-person learning for our students. The protocols we plan to adopt to start the school year support that priority.
Vaccination: The best mechanism to support this priority is vaccination for students 12-and-older. There is a lot of misinformation circulating on social media about the COVID-19 vaccines. Please read information provided by medical professionals, like the site hosted by Northfield Hospital+Clinics.
The district estimates about half of 16-and-17-year olds have been vaccinated and slightly more than 40% of 12-to-15-year olds. The district is maintaining a local vaccination opportunities information sheet to assist families looking for a vaccination appointment for their students.
There are two key components of the safety protocols that I want to highlight in this message: face coverings and quarantine.
Face Coverings: Beginning August 11, 2021, the district plans to require face coverings for people ages two years and older to enter a school facility or on a school bus, regardless of a person’s vaccination status.
The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Minnesota Department of Health have all recommended schools take this step to disrupt the spread of the virus. Over two dozen local health care professionals have also recommended the district implement this safety measure to prioritize in-person learning.
The district will regularly review this safety measure. Parents should expect this safety measure to remain in place longer for students not yet eligible for vaccination.
We are awaiting guidance from the Minnesota State High School League regarding athletics. We will share what this means for athletics in an upcoming communication.
Quarantine: Because students and staff are required to wear face coverings, students who are considered a close contact to someone at school who tested positive for COVID-19 will not have to quarantine. Students with one “more common” or two “less common” COVID-19 symptoms will follow the quarantine requirements associated with the recommended COVID-19 decision tree for people in schools, youth, and child care programs. Students or staff with a member of their household who has tested positive for COVID-19 must follow the recommended COVID-19 decision tree for people in schools, youth, and child care programs to determine if the individual needs quarantine.
Social/emotional support: The district has long supported the social/emotional health of its students and is planning increased support this school year. By way of example, the district has added a guidance counselor at the Area Learning Center, Northfield High School, and Northfield Middle School. Further details about increased support will be shared in a future communication.
Portage: For those families wanting an all-the-time online learning experience, the district offers its K-12 state-approved Portage program. Because the district has state approval, the Northfield School District Portage Program is now available for all Minnesota students. You can learn more about Portage here.
Summary and thank you: In summary, these reasonable safety measures should allow us to significantly reduce the disruptions to our students’ in-person learning. Again, sustaining in-person learning is our priority. The fact that we have to require any safety measures this school year is clearly disheartening. However, we must remember how much better the situation is now compared to last year. This school year will look more like a “regular” school year. I also recognize that not everyone will agree with these safety measures. As you know the pandemic can change things quickly. We will continue to meet the challenges associated with the pandemic by using the best public health guidance to inform our decision making.
As always, thank you for your support and confidence. This latest increase in COVID-19 infections associated with the delta variant will subside. We will defeat this virus together, it is just going to take more time.
Matt Hillmann, Ed.D.
Superintendent of Schools