Distance Learning Fall 2020

Distance Learning Fall 2020
Posted on 11/11/2020
COVID-19 Update November 11, 2020

Dear SouthWest Metro Community,
After considerable thought and deliberation, we have made the tough decision to shift all SouthWest Metro Intermediate District programs to Distance Learning. Student instruction in the Distance Learning model will begin on Monday, November 30, 2020, and we will remain in the model through January 15, 2021. 
This decision was not taken lightly. It is based upon a review of member school districts, city, county, state, and national data and influenced by a significant number of SWMetro member districts that have elected to implement a Distance Learning model either at the secondary level or district-wide. In consultation with local public health officials and the Minnesota Departments of Health and Education, this is the most viable and appropriate option for us at this time.
Many SouthWest Metro member school districts have elected to transition to Distance Learning over the next two weeks. The skyrocketing local COVID numbers and risk of additional community spread as a result of the Thanksgiving and Winter Breaks are driving forces for the decisions made by our member school districts. We have the additional variable and risk associated with bringing students together from many communities in most of our programs. This heightened exposure tips the scale in our case.
In making this decision, I heard passionate pleas from members of our team to remain in a Hybrid model for the sake of our students and families. I lost track of the multiple cases where staff said they went into education to work with kids, not sit in front of a computer screen. I also heard from parents who are experiencing significant stress as they fear their children are falling behind even as they try to balance the needs of their children against work responsibilities.
At the same time, I heard equally compelling requests from staff and families seeking to move to distance learning, at least in the short run, to avoid possible exposure and to hopefully speed our return to Hybrid followed by full in person learning. 
Some have made strong arguments that schools, with social distancing and mask standards, are among the safest places for students and staff to be. We are not seeing significant spread in most of the schools across our region. Rather, we are seeing spread through the community from events outside of school in the vast majority of cases.
However, this spread still impacts us. We are seeing ever increasing numbers of students and staff either test positive or find themselves in a position of needing to quarantine. This is even after many of these folks have taken strong precautions. We have been forced to shift some of our programs to Distance Learning throughout the first quarter due to students and staff in quarantine and the resulting inability to safely staff programs in the short run. 
Please note: our response is not a "one size fits all" approach and will be flexible to shift to strike a balance between risk of community spread and the educational needs of our students. To that end, and as noted, we have been quick to place individual programs in Distance Learning mode throughout the fall. 
As we have tracked the rising numbers, we have also been proactively planning for a successful transition. This has included consultation with our member districts and local public health. Each of our member districts are following a similar plan and implementing distance learning for their students. 
We will transition our programs from the current hybrid model to distance learning over the next week and half to provide everyone with time to prepare:

Today through Friday, November 20th – We will follow our current hybrid schedule. This will afford students an opportunity to take home anything they need before distance learning begins. It will also afford parents time to make necessary plans for the supervision of their children at home while we are in Distance Learning.

Monday, November 23rd and Tuesday, November 24th – Teachers will have these days to develop plans to shift to the Distance Learning model. There will be no student instruction on these days.

Tuesday, January 19th – We plan to resume classes for our programs in the hybrid learning model. This decision will be confirmed or modified in early January based upon data at that time including the possible availability of a viable vaccine.
Teachers will be teaching remotely, but unlike last year, they can be in the building.
We will continue to monitor case rates closely and communicate a plan for the start of the second semester in early January.
During the week following Thanksgiving Break (November 30 through December 4) and Winter Break (January 4 through 8), all SWMetro programs will be exclusively in Distance Learning. This is to reduce the opportunity for possible community spread following family gatherings over these holidays. There will be no exceptions.
The MDE Safe Learning Plan stipulates: "If your school district or charter school is moving some or all grades to distance learning, the school district or charter school may continue to prioritize in-person instruction for students with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness, students in foster care, and students who are struggling academically as long as there is not evidence of widespread COVID-19 transmission in the school building."
For the weeks of December 7, 14, and 21 along with the week of January 11, decisions will be made on a case-by-case, program-by-programs basis in consultation with staff and families regarding the possibility to bring certain students in for instruction. These plans will be developed during Thanksgiving week at which time impacted students and families will be notified.
These are not the decisions any of us want, and we know this information will raise additional questions. That’s one reason we want to take more than a week to manage the change. We are committed to providing support at these times of transition to allow us all to bring our best to the current situation.
Thank you for your flexibility, resilience, determination and the many other qualities we need with abundance this year. 

Take care and be well,