By Daron VanderHeiden, Superintendent
The two things people are probably most tired of hearing about is COVID-19 and political ads. I really wanted to stay away from these topics, however, I need to address the COVID-19 issue as it pertains to how the District determines which learning model (in-person, hybrid, or distance learning) is appropriate.
The District determines the appropriate learning model based on a set of factors and guidelines the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) have established statewide for all k-12 public schools. There is some local control; however, school districts must strictly adhere to the established parameters. I would describe the decision making process as part science and part art due to the local subjective nuances. The following factors are considered when determining our learning model.
County 14-day Case Rates: This is an important data factor; however, it is not the only factor in making a learning model decision. The numbers posted each week represent the number of confirmed cases per 10,000 residents in the county over a 14-day period. The numbers are two weeks old when posted (they are not from the two-week period in real-time at the time they are published). The delay in posting numbers is due to MDH vetting and analyzing the numbers to ensure confirmed cases are attached to the correct county in which the individual resides. The county 14-day case rate can also be very misleading, as numbers may be driven by a specific outbreak in another part of the county that has little or no impact on our school community.
District COVID-19 Case Rates: The District tracks and analyzes the number of confirmed cases within our own school community including staff and students. This number can be more important than the county case rate. During the first two months of school, the District was very fortunate to see very few confirmed cases. However, we have seen an increase in the past week or so, similar to what is happening in our region.
Implementation of COVID-19 Safety Plan: The implementation of our safety plan is another critical factor in determining our learning model. The Hutchinson Public School staff is doing a remarkable job implementing our safety plan, including mask wearing, social distancing, and hygiene practices. Our nursing staff is doing an excellent job following protocols with the cases we have had and have not allowed those cases to spread to the larger student bodies within our buildings. Students and parents are being supportive and good partners in helping us implement our safety plan.
Regional COVID-19 Support Team: Hutchinson Public Schools works directly with a Regional COVID-19 support team with individuals from the Minnesota Department of Education and the Minnesota Department of Health. The District consults and relies on the expertise of these individuals before transitioning to a different learning model.
Please know, the District’s first and most important priority is the health and safety of our students and staff. This priority is always at the forefront of all of our decisions. As we learn more about the virus and how it impacts our school community, we make adjustments to our protocols and practices.
I look forward to the day all of our kids are back in school, this pandemic is behind us, and we can focus all of our efforts on student achievement and success.