‘We may be in distance learning for months’

Parkview Learning Center students wear masks and keep social distance from each other as they leave school Tuesday afteroon in Virginia. Tuesday marked the first day for in-person learning for most students since last March.

VIRGINIA — Surging coronavirus cases on the Iron Range are forcing teachers and students to adjust learning models beginning the week of Nov. 18.

Hibbing is making the most drastic change — implementing a two-week reset, as outlined in guidance from the state Health and Education departments — which cancelled in-person classes and activities until Dec. 1. Teachers will begin distance learning on Tuesday, Nov. 17.

“A reset is intended to provide the district time to deep clean our facilities, practice mitigation, and hopefully return healthy and ready to learn,” the district wrote in a notice to parents. “It is also encouraged that students and staff quarantine during this period, cease gatherings outside of their homes, and practice mitigation strategies that promote our safe return.”

The district notes, however, the Dec. 1 return to classes “may be reevaluated based on local conditions.”

At Rock Ridge Public Schools, encompassing Virginia and Eveleth-Gilbert, high school students will move to full distance learning starting Monday, Nov. 23, while elementary students will begin a hybrid model starting Monday, Nov. 30.

Elementary students will not have classes Nov. 23-24 for teachers to prepare and teachers will be available Wednesday, Nov. 25 for extra help before breaking for Thanksgiving the rest of the week.

“The data continues heading in the wrong direction,” the district wrote to staff and families Thursday. “Even though we have very little COVID-19 transmission in the schools, the COVID-19 infection rates in the greater community are increasing so rapidly that it is making it almost impossible to offer school to students on an everyday basis.”

Sports will continue at Rock Ridge despite high schoolers moving to a full distance learning model. The district added that it doesn’t “foresee any short-term conditions” that will move high school or elementary students off the upcoming scenarios.

“We may be in distance learning for months,” they said. “Currently, nearly 1 in 12 students is in quarantine, unable to attend school. This number continues to get significantly worse.”

Northern St. Louis County and Itasca County are taking the brunt of the regional increase in coronavirus infections. According to the St. Louis County Dashboard, schools in the northern part of the county have a community infection rate of 60.1 per 10,000 residents, compared to 50.7 across the entire county.

Grand Rapids schools implemented a two-week reset starting Nov. 23. In Itasca County, an infection rate over 70 per 10,000 residents forced county public health officials to drop individual contact tracing efforts. The Minnesota Department of Health on Friday announced it would further contact tracing efforts through a texting program to reach close contacts of those infected, an effort aimed at easing the burden on already stressed regional health systems.

“Reaching every single person by phone who needs information is a monumental task,” said Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, in a press release. “Our staff and our partners in local public health and tribal health have done enormous work in this area, and will continue to do so. We ask all Minnesotans to do their part by answering the call, and we hope this text notification helps provide some notice and reassurance.”

Meanwhile, COVID-19 cases are wreaking havoc on schools across the state. In Duluth, the third largest city in Minnesota, the school district last week shut down all in-person activities at its schools through at least Dec. 13. They were joined in recent days by Bloomington and Hopkins. Anoka-Hennepin district, Minnesota's largest school district, will soon transition elementary students to distance learning, according to MPR News.

On the Range, Mountain Iron-Buhl underwent a two-week reset in October after infections started in the district. They returned to in-person learning on Nov. 2.

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