Dear Northfield School District families,
Thank you for your continued support and partnership with the district as we navigate the complexities of educating children during a global health emergency. It has not been easy for anyone the past two years. Since the beginning of this pandemic in 2020, our community has been challenged in numerous ways.
Today, I write to you with some significant upcoming changes to our COVID-19 safety protocol exit strategy that I am recommending the Board of Education approve at its regular meeting Monday night. These changes are based on the rapidly improving public health situation and an effort to transition the management of COVID-19 as an ongoing illness that will continue to circulate for the foreseeable future. These changes are being made after thoughtful consideration and discussion with a local epidemiologist, health professionals, and the district’s incident command team. This year, our primary goal has been uninterrupted in-person learning. At this time, we feel we will continue to meet that objective while making changes to our COVID-19 exit strategy.
The reasons for the changes:
- The district’s influenza-like illness rates have normalized after the surge in cases due to the Omicron variant. These rates are once again well below 5%. This school-based data has returned to being the most accurate metric of the collective health of our schools.
- Vaccinations for children ages 5 and older have been widely available since early November. People have had ample opportunity to become fully vaccinated.
- There are numerous methods for individual protection that were not widely available until recently. These methods include higher-quality masks that can offer better individual protection in a mixed-mask environment and continued access to COVID-19 testing.
As long as the weekly average influenza-like illness rates remain below 5%, the following changes will take place Feb. 21, 2022:
- Face coverings will become recommended inside of Northfield School District facilities except for the Northfield Community Education Center (NCEC), where they will remain required. The district will continue offering higher-quality masks for those who choose to wear a face mask.
- The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) still requires face coverings be worn by all individuals on school buses.
- All contact tracing will cease at the end of the school day on Feb. 18. The district will no longer provide general exposure or close contact notifications. Quarantine will no longer be required for K-12 students or staff who would have been identified as close contacts with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19. Contact tracing and quarantine will continue as is at the NCEC at this time.
The following safety practices will continue:
- Students and staff who exhibit COVID-19-like symptoms should get tested. Cue testing will continue to be available at the district office. Rapid antigen test kits will continue to be available at each school office.
- Students or staff who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to isolate for five days from the date of the positive test result. Students or staff can return to school after Day No. 5 with a negative rapid antigen test. The maximum isolation period is 10 days.
- Students and staff should continue to follow good hygiene practices, like washing their hands, covering their coughs, and staying home when sick.
- Proof of vaccination will continue to be required for volunteers.
The district will consider reactivating safety protocols at any school when the weekly average influenza-like illness rate exceeds 5%. If any building reactivates its safety protocols, community education activities at that school will do the same.
If a dramatic deterioration in the public health situation were to occur, we will consider reactivating districtwide safety protocols.
The transition to this next stage of responding to a once-in-a-lifetime disruption will not come without difficulty. I realize these changes will be welcomed by some and create concern for others. The latest data suggests we are on a positive trajectory that allows us to safely make these changes. I have said this many times and will reiterate it here: When we look back at this time, we want to be proud of how we conducted ourselves and how we treated our friends and neighbors. I remain confident we will be judged favorably on that measure.
Please contact me directly if you have any questions or concerns. Again, thank you for your continued support and trust in our school district.
Matt Hillmann, Ed.D.