Owatonna's school district to vote on post-Thanksgiving 'targeted distance learning week'

Jessica Miles
Updated: November 12, 2020 11:08 PM
Created: November 12, 2020 10:33 PM

As the holidays inch closer, the COVID-19 case count continues to rise around the state.

"We're seeing a rapid growth in cases, the number of cases has actually tripled or quadrupled in only about a week and a half," said Jeff Elstad, superintendent of Owatonna Public Schools.

Just this week in the school district, an elementary building was moved to distance learning due to positive cases. Elstad says as fall rolls into winter, concerns rise.

"The Thanksgiving holiday is one of particular concern for us right now because of the number of super spreader events," he said.

Elstad knows families will gather.

"Knowing that, we wanted to take a proactive stance, to look at a targeted distance-learning week after Thanksgiving so that families that in fact might be coming in contact with someone with COVID-19, at least there's a week between when they've been in contact versus when they might be coming back to school," he said.

The district is also working with community businesses on the remote week plan.

"We reached out to our largest employers in our community and said, 'We need your partnership with us,' and every single one of them, without question, said, 'Absolutely, we will be there to support you, we want our employees healthy, too,'" Elstad said.

Three other nearby school districts plan to do the same, and neighboring counties are looking into it. If it works, the district may use the tactic again at the end of December.

"We do our best work when our kids are with it us, and that's why we are trying some strategies because why not? Why not try something different to see if it works?" Elstad said.

In addition to schedules, Elstad says testing could be a game-changer in helping get students back to in-person learning.

"If you told me as a parent, a proud parent, if you told me that my 10th-grade son could return to everyday classes and what I needed to do is to have him take an every week test, he would be the first in line to take it as a student, and as a parent, I would be standing right along with him to make sure he takes a test," he said.

The Owatonna School Board will vote on adopting the targeted distance-learning week at a special board meeting Friday morning.

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