VIRGINIA – For the third week in a row, the 14-day COVID case rate remains above 10 yet, Rock Ridge and other area districts remain in-person for all students. Itasca County has seen a recent spike in positive COVID cases and Nashwauk-Keewatin is transitioning their oldest students to the hybrid model.

Thursday, the St. Louis County COVID-19 Dashboard was updated with infection rate information for the dates of Aug. 30 to Sept. 12. Within that time period, the infection rate per 10,000 people was 11.37 in Greater St. Louis County, 16.14 in the Duluth area for a county average of 14.23.

This was a decrease from rates reported the previous week for the time period of Aug. 23 to Sept. 5 when Greater St. Louis County was at 13.74. Three weeks ago, for the period of Aug. 16-29, the rate was 10.87.

According to the model recommended by the Education Department, as cases fluctuate, different learning models may be triggered ranging from in-person to hybrid to full distance learning. The model can be found at https://mn.gov/covid19/for-minnesotans/safe-learning-plan/overview.jsp.

The 14-day case rate per 10,000 people range 10-19, the recommended policy is elementary in-person learning and hybrid for 7-12 grades.

In a letter sent to parents by the Rock Ridge School District on Sept. 18, Superintendent Dr. Noel Schmidt explained that the district had received new guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health which said to “wait for three weeks of data before changing learning models unless there is an outbreak in the schools.”

The letter went on to state, “Unless there are extenuating circumstances, if the third data point (third week) which will be released next Thursday (September 24), is higher than 10.00, we will have reached the guidance level from the Minnesota Department of Health for switching to hybrid learning.”

Even though the rate released this week is higher than 10.00, it is 11.37, Rock Ridge will not be changing to the hybrid learning model for 7-12 grades.

In a letter released on Thursday, Schmidt stated, “there are extenuating circumstances which do not warrant a move at this time.” These included: the rate dropping from 13.62 to 11.37; low number of cases in the schools with no case having started in the school setting; cases spreading primarily within the Long Term Care facilities.

The letter did caution that older students could still be moved to the hybrid model in the future.

“If next week’s case rates are between 10-20 per 10,000, and unless there are circumstances which warrant otherwise--keep in mind that local events can play a major role in any decision--the high school could still move to hybrid learning while the elementary schools continue with in-person schooling.”

This leads to the questions – Will the Rock Ridge School District stick to this when updated data is released next week? And How does this uncertainty and changing of plans affect the learning environment?

“Rock Ridge is being proactive with the data, because in addition to the numbers being released by St. Louis County, we are considering local data by paying attention to actual cases in the school and actual cases being caused or originating from the academic setting,” said Schmidt in a Friday email to Mesabi Tribune staff.

For the past week, families, students and faculty have been discussing and preparing for the expected upcoming transition to the hybrid model for grades 7-12. How is this stress affecting the developing brains of the area youth?

Other area schools are also maintaining their current learning models.

Mesabi East has been utilizing the hybrid model since they opened school.

“Both the high school and the elementary school are using the hybrid model,” said Gregg Allen, Mesabi East Superintendent, over email Friday. “Elementary students go to school all day every day and use social distancing and 50% occupancy in classrooms. High school students are split into two groups and come to school two days a week.”

Although Iron Range schools in St. Louis County may not be changing, things are different right across the county border.

Numbers jumped in Itasca County and schools in Nashwauk-Keewatin, Greenway and Grand Rapids are moving their oldest students to hybrid models starting Monday.

“We took today off to prepare for the transition,” said Nashwauk-Keewatin Superintendent Brenda Spartz over the phone Friday afternoon.

On Thursday, Itasca County Health and Human Services released that as of Sept. 21 (Monday), the 14-day average of positive tests per 10,000 Itasca residents is 16.8.

Itasca County works with up-to-date infection rate calculations. The rate released earlier this week by the state health department for Aug. 30- Sept. 12 reports Itasca County at 11.06.

“We are feeling really good about moving 7-12 grades to the hybrid model,” said Spartz. “That first week of school we practiced with orange coming in one day and blue coming in the next. Right now I’m so thankful that we did that as it has taken a lot of that confusion away.”

Thursday, all technology was distributed to 7-12 graders. Students in grades 7-10 each have an iPad. Students in 11th and 12th grades have Chromebooks. The district has purchased Chromebooks for 7-12 grades however they are not due to be delivered until the end of November, stated Spartz.

“We are feeling really confident that we have a good, solid plan,” said Spartz. “We know that if we need to further adjust our learning model we are willing and able to do that. We are all learning together!”

•••

Assumption Catholic School In-person

Cherry In-person

Chisholm In-person

ERATS Hybrid

Ely In-person for K-5, Hybrid for 6-12

Floodwood Moving toward Hybrid

Hibbing In-person for K-6, Hybrid for 7-12

Marquette In-person

Mesabi Area Learning Center Hybrid

Mesabi East In-person for K-6, Hybrid for 7-12

Mountain Iron-Buhl In-person

Nashwauk-Keewatin In-person for K-6, Hybrid for 7-12

North Woods In-person

Northeast Range School In-person

Northland Learning Center In-person

Rock Ridge In-person

South Ridge In-person

St. Louis County Schools In-person

Tower-Soudan In-person

Victory Christian Academy In-person

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