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St. James administration announces plan to move high school to distance learning, and Northside to keep same learning model

Sean Ellertson
St. James Plaindealer

On Monday night, the St. James School District administration announced plans to move the St. James Middle School/High School to full-time distance learning next week.

Northside Elementary will continue with their existing learning model.

"We know the amount of cases are increasing in the school," said Superintendent Dr. Steven Heil. "We know they're increasing in the county. We know therefore they're increasing in the city, and surrounding the city. We know they're increasing in the school."

"Due to the fact that for the last five weeks between 30-49 (cases per 10,000) the state guidance says we should be moving a distance learning type model. And that is kind of what the recommendation is."

Some high school students still may be allowed to learn from school if they choose. Students that require IEPs or are English Language Learners would be permitted within the school.

The move to distance learning would still allow students and families that need WiFi service to come into larger rooms to use the WiFi at the middle school/high school, Northside, or at Armstrong.

The ultimate goal is to limit student mobility and inter-mixing to hopefully slow the spread down throughout the county.

Discussions regarding the move to a distance model started last week between Heil, the administration, the school nurses, and a regional support team member from South Central Service Cooperative.

"Last Thursday, we spent a considerable amount of time on the phone with Julia (Whitcomb) with our regional support team person talking about numbers. Friday, I spent a lot of time with them too going over the numbers as well as pulling the admin group together."

The meeting also included the two school nurses.

"Our student experience is paramount to their success. What we are talking about today does not necessarily make their experience for the better, but in the long run, we need to make it better. So it's tough."

Heil broke down the numbers that are reported every two weeks by the county.

Since the start of the school year, cases have spiked in the county, swelling to over 44 cases per 10,000 people as of September 5th, and dipping slightly to over 43 cases per 10,000 as of September 17th.

For all results, St. James registered slightly above 50% of all cases. As of Tuesday, there had been 40 cases of individuals from 0-10, and 60 cases from individuals from 11-20.

A number of students as well as staff have had to quarantine, or have tested positive for COVID-19.

As of Wednesday morning, a total of 15 staff have had, or are currently in quarantine. A total of 79 students have had to quarantine due to themselves testing positive for COVID-19, or someone they have been in contact with who has tested positive for COVID-19.

A total of 24 students had to quarantine on September 18th.

On Monday, the day of the meeting, nine students were forced to quarantine for ten or more days.

"We've done a very good job of shifting, and moving, and adjusting for people in the district," said Heil. "The principals and I are always one or two people away from saying we may have to just close due to the lack of adults."

Heil praised the work of substitutes for being willing to come in and work.

Heil did note that some students were in school when a sibling was out of school quarantining, and those students had to be plucked out of school to go quarantine.

As for athletics, the plan is to finish both the cross country and tennis seasons. On Monday, the Minnesota State High School League announced that volleyball and football competitive seasons would be moved back to the fall after previously being shifted to the spring.

"(If) one kid comes in with symptoms, the whole team is going to have to quarantine."

The decision from the state high school league is only applied to high school league sanctioned sports.

The plan will go into effect on Monday, September 28th.