Learning Model Change

District Families,

I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge that we hear you and we appreciate the feedback you have provided - through emails, calls and personal testimonials - about how the pandemic is affecting students, families, staff and community. We understand that the decisions we’re being forced to make are welcomed by many, but are not agreed upon by all. We acknowledge that this is the nature of this pandemic.

As we began our 2020-21 school year in a Hybrid Learning Model at all levels, we were hopeful that we would not have to change to a more restrictive learning model for our students. Unfortunately, due to dramatically increasing county wide case rate data which far exceed thresholds for schools established by the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and numerous local factors related to COVID-19, and in particular the inability to maintain acceptable staffing levels in our buildings, the time has come to move our students into a Full Distance Learning Model.

As announced last week, our high school students (grades 9-12) will begin in the Distance Learning model next Tuesday, November 17. Additionally, at this time we are announcing that our Elementary (grades K-5) and Middle School (grades 6-8) students will begin in the Distance Learning model on Monday, Nov. 30. There will be no school for Elementary and Middle School students on Monday, Nov. 23 and Tuesday, Nov. 24 (there will be no in-school or at-home learning). On those Transition Days, our Elementary and Middle School staff members will be planning and preparing for the Distance Learning Model.

Families in Early Childhood Programs (ECFE, ECSE, preschool and Bear FUNdamentals) will receive specific communication from those programs. 

We have been and will continue to be in close consultation with local public health officials and the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education to track multiple data points regarding the latest COVID-19 outbreaks within White Bear Lake Area Schools and its surrounding communities. Meanwhile, we have also been navigating the uncertainty of changing education models - in this case from Hybrid to Distance Learning.

We know that families have many questions and we want to provide the details and rationale to help our community understand the situation.

Executive Order and Requirements
Earlier this summer and in accordance with Governor Tim Walz’s Executive Order 20-82, school district leaders were required to develop plans for three learning models: In-person, Distance, and a Hybrid Learning Model. Individual school districts and school buildings within a district were instructed to be prepared to adjust the learning model at any time during the school year as the COVID-19 situation evolved. The Minnesota Safe Learning Plan was developed with individual school districts writing their plans to align with the requirements. 

Details and Rationale
Since the November 2 School Board meeting, when the current plan was approved, the situation in the district and in the broader community have changed considerably. We have had to temporarily move several classroom sections to a distance model as we've experienced exposures, and we expect that we will experience more of these temporary instructional shifts due to similar circumstances and because we are not able to provide the staffing necessary to provide a safe and effective learning environment. Our teachers and support staff have done an exceptional job to keep our classes in session, and we have continued to look at creative staffing solutions, but we are increasingly finding that our solutions result in programming disruptions and are unsustainable.

Examples of factors and changes include:

  • The number of students and staff testing positive for COVID-19 has increased significantly, which disrupts the learning environment by removing these individuals from the buildings.

    • The number of students and staff members who have tested positive for COVID-19 this week nearly tripled over last week’s numbers.

    • Trend data at all buildings has gone up significantly. One of our schools has been placed on the MDH list of schools with 5 or more confirmed cases of COVID-19 in students or staff who were in the building while infectious during a two-week reporting period. We anticipate up to five schools being added to the MDH list next week.

  • The number of students and staff in quarantine due to close contact with a person who has tested positive has increased significantly, which disrupts the learning environment by removing these individuals from the buildings and is making it difficult, even impossible at some buildings, to operate our schools. 

    • Our numbers of students and staff members being quarantined have increased dramatically, with 445 students quarantined this week and 76 staff members quarantined this week.

  • Our daily substitute teacher fill rate has dropped to between 25-35%. This means that we are not able to find substitute teachers to cover 65-75% of our classrooms when the regular teacher is absent. Teacher colleagues are partnering to help to cover these classrooms when possible. At times, we have not had enough available staff to fill in the gaps, which has led to localized learning model shifts. We anticipate substitute teachers will be increasingly hard to find so this model is not sustainable.

  • Our county case rates are rising dramatically. The forecasted 14-day case rate per 10,000 in Ramsey County for Nov. 19 is 113-131, Washington County 120-149 (including the Stillwater prison), and Anoka County 211-236. These numbers are exceedingly higher than the range we have been advised by the MDH as safe for the continuation of any type of in-person school. It is expected that these rates will increase and remain elevated for the next 12 weeks due to the holidays and likely gatherings throughout the communities.

    • The consistent recommendation from the MDH and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) has been to move to a distance learning model when 14-day county case rates reach 30 for our Middle and High Schools and 50 for our Elementary Schools.  

  • According to our county public health officials, we have reached a point of widespread community transmission. Additionally, in Ramsey County, the weekly case positivity rate has doubled over the last two weeks to 10%, and that rate is expected to continue increasing. Positivity rates in the 5% range are the goal to allow for adequate contact tracing, mitigation efforts, and hospitals to keep pace, but higher rates of positivity demonstrate an overwhelming of our health care systems.

Transition and Timeline
We are committed to continuing to provide a high-quality education for all of our students when we transition to the Distance Learning Model. Our high school students (grades 9-12) will not have school next Monday, Nov. 16 (there will be no in-school or at-home learning on the Transition Day) and will begin in the Distance Learning model on Tuesday, Nov. 17. Our Elementary and Middle School students (grades K-8) will not have school on Nov. 23 & 24 (there will be no in-school or at-home learning), which will be used as Transition Days by our Elementary and Middle School staff members to plan and prepare. Elementary and Middle School students will begin in the Distance Learning model after Thanksgiving Break, starting Nov. 30. We know these changes are inconvenient for families and appreciate your understanding and flexibility.

Dates at a glance:

  • Nov. 16 - No School for High School (grades 9-12) students

    • Transition Days: High School staff will be planning and preparing for Full Distance Learning

    • Elementary and Middle School students will have school, Hybrid Learning, on these days

  • Nov. 17 - High School (grades 9-12) students begin Full Distance Learning

  • Nov. 16-20 - Elementary and Middle School students follow Hybrid Learning schedule

  • Nov. 23 & 24 - No School for Elementary (grades K-5) and Middle School (grades 6-8) students

    • Transition Days: Elementary and Middle School staff will be planning and preparing for Full Distance Learning

    • Transition Day Childcare will be available for families in need.

      • Tier 1 families with current contracts may register for these Transitions Days at no cost during school day hours.  Fee-based wrap-around care will be available for those who are interested. 

      • Registration for fee-based options (6:30 a.m. - 6 p.m.) will be available for all families that are interested.

      • Registration window will open at 5 p.m. today.  CLICK HERE

    • High School (grades 9-12) will have school, Distance Learning, on these days

  • Nov. 25-27 - Thanksgiving Break - No School for all students (grades E-12+)

  • Nov. 30 - Elementary (grades K-5) and Middle School (grades 6-8) students begin Full Distance Learning

While there can be no specific timeline to return to a hybrid or in person model due to the uncertainty of the pandemic, we will continue to monitor the data and availability of staffing daily. For reasons mentioned throughout this message, Distance Learning will likely remain in place for all White Bear Lake Area Schools students (K-12) at least through Winter Break. We will continue to monitor our situation and re-evaluate in January.

We know there are many questions about what this learning model switch means for each of you. Please continue reading for answers to those questions. If you have additional questions after reviewing this information, please contact your child’s teacher or principal for information specific to your child.

Extracurricular Activities
We will continue to seek guidance from the Minnesota State High School League, which has worked in alignment with MDE/MDH to provide sport specific COVID-19 safety guidance to member schools in order to assist them in operating athletics/activities in the safest possible manner.

We are not announcing any changes to our Athletics, Activities or Community Services & Recreation Programs at this time, but we expect that we will be able to provide an update to families in the next couple of weeks.

Facility Use and Rentals
Building rental requests must be approved through the Community Services and Recreation Office and must follow the Safe Learning Plan requirements. We will continue to require COVID-19 Preparedness Plans from eligible and approved renters. The school district will follow the cleaning and disinfection protocols outlined in the Safe Learning Plan.

Special Education Services
Students who receive Special Education services will continue to receive services as outlined in their Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Communication regarding your student's services will be forthcoming from your child's case manager. Special Education evaluations will continue during this time of distance learning. Parents will be notified by their student’s evaluation manager to share how the evaluation testing will continue as outlined in the student’s Evaluation Plan. 

Supports
We understand that connections and relationships are an important part of our students’  educational experiences, and we remain committed to the social emotional well-being of those in our school community. Individual supports are available for students as needed. The Support Hub is a resource available on the district’s website to provide families with necessary information to address barriers and enhance well-being. This support gives families and community members access to information for essential services including crisis response, basic needs, mental health and well-being, physical health, social emotional learning and more. 

Technology
We recognize the change to full distance learning for our students may require additional support and resources. Visit the Technology Tools page of the district website to find student and family information on many of our digital platforms. For class-specific questions please contact your student’s teacher. For other technical questions contact the district Technology Department by phone at 651-407-7637 and by email at parenttechhelp@isd624.org.

Tier 1 Childcare & Fee-Based Childcare
Families who are utilizing the district’s Tier 1 Childcare will receive a message from our Community Services Office with updates and information. Fee-based, full-day childcare programming options will be available for all students K-8 as space allows. Community Services & Recreation will have additional details available here over the weekend.

Returning to In-Person or Hybrid Learning
There is nothing we want more than to have all of our children safely back on site and in school with their teachers, full time. We wish we could tell you exactly when this will happen; however, at this time the future of COVID-19 is unknown. Our hope is to return to the in-person or hybrid model as soon as possible, when there is adequate staffing, and when the number of COVID-19 cases notably declines. 

It will take all of us, working together, to decrease the spread of the virus so we can bring our children back to school. We must implement the strategies set forth from the MDH and the Centers for Disease Control. We can improve our chances of getting our students back in school by: 

  • wearing face coverings while being sure to cover our mouth and nose; 

  • practicing six-foot or more social distancing; 

  • regularly cleaning work and learning environments; 

  • washing our hands frequently and thoroughly; 

  • staying away from large-group events; 

  • staying home when sick and following other recommended guidelines.

Another way we are able to help stop the spread is to get tested for COVID-19. MDH has asked us to share that their COVID-19 mail order pilot test is now open for anyone in Minnesota to access. Staff and families can use the mail order form to access the saliva tests. Testing is free for every Minnesotan, whether or not you have insurance.
 

I want to take this opportunity to thank each of you for the partnership you’ve always shown, but that has been especially apparent throughout this pandemic. It is clear that our students benefit from an engaged community of support.

Please take care of yourself and your family. Together, we will get through this.

Sincerely,
Dr. Wayne Kazmierczak, Superintendent