Rochester Public Schools will maintain its current learning model because the local COVID-19 infection rate has increased since the school year began, Superintendent Michael Muñoz announced Friday morning.

Elementary students have been in a hybrid model and secondary students have been in distance learning since beginning school this fall. .

"Six weeks ago, when we were having the same conversation, I said our top priority is the safety of our students and staff, and that still remains our top priority," Muñoz said.

Muñoz said that when the school year started, the local infection rate was 12.7 cases per 10,000 people. He said that number has since increased to 24.5 cases per 10,000 people.

Rochester schools technically use a more conservative model than required. According to guidelines from the state, schools can have hybrid learning for both elementary and secondary students if the local infection rate is between 20 and 30. But at the time the state released those guidelines, Gov. Tim Walz clarified that those categories just give districts a place to start when making their decisions about what model to choose.

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Muñoz said the district has had 86 positive cases of COVID-19 in either students or staff members since July 24. Sixty-eight of those have been since the start of the school year. As a result, more than 200 students and staff have had to quarantine themselves.

Technology has been an issue for some families during hybrid and distance learning. Muñoz said that starting next week, families will be able to call an 800 number with questions they have related to learning virtually.

"There will be people there on the phone that can help them and walk them through that process," Muñoz said.

The school district will review the COVID data and revisit its learning model decision in late November.

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