With COVID-19 numbers increasing throughout the county, school districts are having to move to distance learning for some students. Not because of an outbreak in the schools, but because of staffing issues.

From Friday, Nov. 6 through Monday, Nov. 9, COVID-19 cases in Douglas County jumped by 152. Total number of COVID-19 cases confirmed by the Minnesota Department of Health in Douglas County are at 1,173 with 11 deaths. Active cases in Douglas County are at 297, according to Horizon Public Health as of Nov. 9.

The Brandon-Evansville School District will start distance learning for students in grades 6-12 beginning on Wednesday, Nov. 11, according to an announcement made by Superintendent Don Peschel Monday, Nov. 9, via the district’s Facebook page.

As of his announcement Monday morning, he said there were 17 teachers and/or other staff members who were out because of COVID-19 – either because of exposure or positive testing.

For now, students in K-5 will remain in-person with regular busing.

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Distance learning will remain in effect for grades 6-12 the week of Nov. 16-20 and in-person for grades K-5.

Peschel also noted that although the district is moving to distance learning for the middle and high school, it will not impact athletics.

On Nov. 19, Peschel said a decision will be made for the following week. He said the district is in constant contact with health officials and are keeping an eye on COVID-19 numbers.

The goal, he said, is to get back to all in-person learning for all students.

Osakis School District will be moving to a hybrid learning model for grades 3-12 with students in preschool through second-grade staying with the in-person learning model. However, on Wednesdays, it will be distance learning for everyone.

The new hybrid learning model will be in effect through at least Thanksgiving.

Superintendent Randy Bergquist said it was a hard decision as, just like B-E, the goal is to have all students at school doing in-person learning.

Bergquist is also keeping an eye on numbers and is in constant contact with local and state health officials.

Osakis athletics will not be impacted by going to the distance learning model.

Alexandria Public Schools will transition students in grades 7-12 at Discovery Middle School and Alexandria Area High School to a distance learning model beginning Thursday, Nov. 12, and will keep that model through at least Wednesday, Dec. 2.

The school district will reevaluate COVID-19 case rate data prior to the Thanksgiving break to determine if metrics would support bringing 7-12 students back to a safe start/hybrid model on Dec. 3

Pre-K through grade 5 will continue with the in-person learning model. Grade 6 will continue in the safe start/hybrid model.

“As community transmission rates have risen, it has become increasingly challenging for the district to adequately staff for in-person learning at the secondary level,” said Superintendent Rick Sansted. “Taking a proactive approach to shifting 7-12 to a more restrictive model allows us to prioritize our youngest learners and provides time for us to recalibrate resources.”

The Minnesota Safe Learning Plan prioritizes health and safety for school communities and the return of as many students as possible to schools. Each school district is guided to use local COVID-19 case rates to determine their learning models – in-person, hybrid and distance learning.

Based on the changing health needs of the schools and local community, Sansted said the district is prepared to implement any of these learning models throughout the school year and may need to shift between models as health conditions change.

At this time, the following factors are what guided the decision to shift 7-12 to distance learning:

  • The numbers of staff and students under quarantine due to close contact with confirmed COVID cases continues to follow the trend line of the county case rate data.

  • A shortage of substitute teachers and staff, which means the district does not have enough substitutes to cover absences.

  • Minnesota Department of Education guidelines within the state’s Safe Learning Plan, and feedback from the district’s COVID Advisory Team.