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Area districts respond to state's decision for school year

Rochester Public Schools has indicated it will release its plan for the start of the year by the end of the first week in August.

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Based on newly released guidelines from the state, public school districts are preparing for the new school year based on the impact of the pandemic in their own specific areas.

One of the main factors school districts have to consider is the rate of COVID spread over a 14-day period. Because of that, districts likely will not know whether they can host in-person classes until they get closer to the start of school. State officials held a press conference on the topic Thursday.

Nonetheless, some of them are just glad for the local control they have been given over the situation.

“It’s exactly what I prayed for,” said Mark Matuska, superintendent of Kasson-Mantorville School District. “I was really hoping and praying we’d be able to make some decisions based on the data we have in our county.”

State officials previously had told school districts to prepare for three possibilities: that they would return to school as normal, that they would do distance-learning, or that there would be some sort of hybrid model.

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Like Matuska, Dover-Eyota Public Schools Superintendent Mike Carolan said it's a good decision to let individual districts open based on the severity of the pandemic's spread in their own areas.

"It makes sense that we wouldn't look at this as 'one size fits all," Carolan said.

Now that school districts have an idea what they can expect (or at least an idea about the factors that will contribute to the situation), they are beginning to plan accordingly.

Some districts, including Dover-Eyota and Byron, are getting ready to survey the families that make up their student bodies.

Rochester Public Schools released a statement on Thursday, saying administrators will have a number of “strategic meetings” with Olmsted County Public Health Services and the Mayo Clinic before announcing what plan it will implement for the start of the year. RPS said it will announce its decision by the end of the first week in August.

“It is imperative the district has these conversations before finalizing our plan,” said the statement from the district.

Stewartville Superintendent Belinda Selfors also released a statement, saying the district will let its families know what model they will begin the year with by Aug. 11. Since the model a school district has to follow is based on the community’s rate of COVID spread, Selfors asked the community to help with the situation.

“The success of our plans will be dependent on everyone in our community taking ownership of the status of our community’s health. We are all connected and our collective social behaviors will determine if we have isolated cases or an outbreak of the virus in our communities,” Selfors said in the statement. “We are asking all members of our communities to work alongside and with us to limit the numbers of cases throughout our school district so that we can come back to school.”

Jordan Shearer covers K-12 education for the Post Bulletin. A Rochester native, he graduated from Bemidji State University in 2013 before heading out to write for a small newsroom in the boonies of western Nebraska. Bringing things full circle, he returned to Rochester in 2020 just shy of a decade after leaving. Readers can reach Jordan at 507-285-7710 or jshearer@postbulletin.com.
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