School districts as well as colleges and universities in Minnesota are closely monitoring the growing number of COVID-19 cases in Minnesota, which could push students back into periods of distance learning.
The Shakopee School District canceled all classes on Monday and Tuesday, extending the district’s Thanksgiving vacation, due to high infection rates from COVID-19. The decision came after three classes in the district had to switch to distance education due to a continuing increase in cases. A handful of other classes were near the threshold to make the switch, the district said.
The goal of the move was to “address concerns about the pandemic and hopefully slow the growing number of COVID-19 cases in our district,” according to a letter sent Thursday to Shakopee’s parents. District leaders will continue to monitor the number of cases and explore other schedule adjustments and mitigation efforts, the letter said. “Our aim is to have some control over the situation and to be proactive, as much as possible,” he said.
The surge in the number of cases – which has reached levels not seen since last fall – has prompted some education officials and student groups to push for vaccines for students and families and to call for continued compliance masking, social distancing and quarantine recommendations. Decisions about COVID-19-related precautions, such as mask requirements, have been left to individual districts and have proven controversial in school board meetings.
With a few exceptions, schools and campuses have largely refrained from switching to distance learning. Some individual schools, however, have had to do so due to widespread staff absences due to illness and quarantine.
Schools in Red Lake switched to distance education in early November due to rising infection rates. The school board has decided to maintain the break from in-person classes until at least January 3.
Schools in South Washington County also recently informed parents of the possibility of having to revert to distance education if COVID-19 rates continue to rise. And others are considering and discussing such measures, said Scott Croonquist, executive director of the Association of Metropolitan School Districts.
In a letter sent to parents in Minnesota this week, Minnesota Education Commissioner Heather Mueller said no one could have predicted at the onset of the pandemic that COVID-19 could still affect classrooms. here the 2021-2022 school year.
“We have learned a lot since the start of the pandemic, and our priorities remain the same: first, to maintain the safety, health and well-being of our students, staff and families; and second, to ensure that students can stay in their classrooms safely. – person learning, ”she wrote in the letter, which then listed recommendations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools.
Colleges are also taking note of the growing number of COVID-19 cases in the state, although most have not changed their operations.
“We are certainly monitoring. Our positivity rate has remained relatively low compared to surrounding communities,” said University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker, who noted that the Twin Cities campus had both mandates interior masking and vaccination in place.
The U’s Twin Cities campus reported a total of 54 cases of COVID-19 among students and employees last week and a positivity rate of around 6%.
Alexandria Technical and Community College moved all of its courses online on Thursday due to an increase in the number of cases on campus and in the surrounding community and will remain mostly out of the way until Thanksgiving. However, professors have the option of teaching the labs in person over the next week.
“I hope these strategies will slow the spread of COVID-19 on campus and allow us to end the semester on a strong note,” Alexandria Technical and Community College president Michael Seymour wrote in an email to students.
The larger system of public colleges in the state of Minnesota has recorded an increasing number of COVID-19 cases in recent weeks.
Across the system’s 30 community colleges and seven universities, 241 new cases were reported among students and employees from November 10 to 17. A total of 230 cases were reported in the previous week. Both counts were highlights for the semester.
Student and faculty groups urged Minnesota state leaders to more aggressively promote immunization at a board meeting on Wednesday.
The state of Minnesota does not require that all students attending its institutions be immunized. Instead, he demanded it only for those who live in college-owned housing, participate in varsity sports, work placements, or clinical jobs. As a result, only 57% of students at colleges and universities in the state of Minnesota had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine as of September 20, according to state immunization data obtained by the system.
Vaccination rates in individual schools ranged from 33% to 69%.
Student union leaders told the board on Wednesday that some campuses do not punish those who flout mask mandates, nor actively promote immunization; some campuses didn’t even have a poster promoting COVID-19 vaccinations, the students said.
Leaders from faculty and staff unions have urged Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra to consider a vaccination mandate for all and even suggested that colleges should move their courses online to help reduce transmission before the start of the spring semester.
Malhotra said he had heard the concerns “loudly and clearly” and would reassess the system’s COVID-19 mitigation measures in light of the increased number of cases.
“The data coming out is concerning,” said Malhotra. “It is time for us to carefully consider, to reflect, and we intend to do so.”
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