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School Model Decision Making Process

November 3, 2020

Dear New London-Spicer Families,

We have received some questions regarding the decision-making process in determining the learning model we implement. Therefore, we thought we would send out additional communication outlining the history and current process.

Prior to the start of the school year, districts were in search of information to use in determining how to return to school. Conversations with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) throughout the summer were focused on developing a process for determining models for returning to school. 

On July 30, 2020 Governor Walz announced the utilization of county cases per 10,000 residents as a starting point for a return to school. Those county numbers indicated that the New London-Spicer School District could return to in-person learning for students in grades PreK-6th and hybrid for students in grades 7-12.

This past week, Deputy Commissioner Heather Mueller provided this reminder to school districts, and rather than attempting to recreate the message, we have chosen to copy and paste its content.

“Now that we are two months into the school year, school districts and charter schools are working through step five of the Safe Learning Plan – and this has always been part of the guidance process. On page eight of the Safe Learning Plan, step five states: “After the initial selection of a learning model for school opening, the decision to shift to an alternative learning model should center on the impact of COVID-19 at the school level, while maintaining awareness of changes in viral activity in the community through continued review of the biweekly county-level case data.” This means that school districts and charter schools will need to take into account not only the county-level case data when determining learning models, but also the number of confirmed cases, quarantines, and close contacts in your school community, each school building within your district, and other data such as individuals with influenza-like illness.

This is what we are calling the “scalpel approach.” This approach allows school districts and charter schools within the same county to have different learning models. For example, a county may have four school districts within its boundaries which would give them all the same county base data; however, when each of the school districts reviews their community data and school data, their viral spread might be vastly different. As a result, some of the districts in that county may need to move to distance learning while others can remain in hybrid. Beyond this, some districts may have local factors or mitigation strategies that allow or prohibit students from accessing learning in person. This scalpel approach is why some school districts that have high county-level case data are still operating in an in-person or hybrid learning model.”

Each Thursday, the school district contacts the Regional Support Team made up of the following individuals:

  • Shelly Maes, Southwest West Central Service Cooperative Regional Coordinator
  • Sally Almond, MDH COVID-19 Support
  • Austin Bell, MDH Epidemiologist
  • Camryn, Krause Ferris, MDE COVID-19 Testing Coordinator

Information reviewed by the Regional Support Team includes:

  • School Building Data (active, quarantined, active returned, quarantined returned)
  • Zip Code Data
  • County Data

The main focus of the Regional Support Team is what is actively going on in our school buildings. As of right now, active cases have been kept to a minimum and there is no evidence of the virus being transmitted in our schools. 

We keep in consistent contact with the Regional Support Team as positive cases are identified in our student body or within our staff. The Regional Support Team has provided exceptional guidance and support. They have also applauded our district's commitment to ensuring student and staff safety.

Based on all of that data, the Regional Support Team makes a recommendation for what learning model the district should operate. Their recommendation is then taken to our Local Incident Command Team for consideration. After consideration, the Local Incident Command Team either meets to discuss the recommendation or votes to accept the recommendation. We are extremely proud of the work of our Local Incident Command Team as their conversations have been rich in dialogue and safety centered. 

The New London-Spicer School District’s main priority is to provide a safe teaching and learning environment for all. However, we understand that a single decision by the school district may not properly respond to the consideration of a particular family. Therefore, parents may elect to have their child(ren) in our distance learning model at any point throughout this school year. Questions regarding distance learning should be directed to the appropriate building principal. We will continue to do all that we can to support our families as a partner in their educational journey. 

For specific questions, please feel free to contact Bill Adams, Superintendent at AdamsW@nls.k12.mn.us or 320.354.2252.