Elementary students could start moving back into Rochester classrooms in mid-January.

The school district's COVID-19 advisory team recently released a proposed schedule for students to return to in-person learning. The schedule will be presented to the Rochester School Board for review Jan. 5. The plan will have to be approved by the board before it can be implemented.

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The plan outlined by the advisory team implements the return in stages. Per the proposal, students in grades K-2 would return to the hybrid model starting Jan. 19. Students in grades 3-5 would return to the hybrid model starting Feb. 1.

Students in grades K-2 then would move to an in-person learning model starting Feb. 16, while students in grades 3-5 remain in hybrid learning. Third- through fifth-graders would move to an in-person learning model starting March 1.

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Unlike the elementary grades, secondary students will still have to ride out distance learning until the number of COVID-19 cases per 10,000 residents comes back down.

According to the guidelines released prior to the start of the school year, schools should have students in distance learning if the case rate per 10,000 residents is 50 or more. The case rate information from the state is routinely behind. However, Olmsted County's case rate was at 86.76 for the period of Nov. 29-Dec. 12.

School districts also are able to use more data than just the county's rolling 14-day average. Olmsted County breaks down the number of cases by ZIP code. As of Wednesday, the ZIP code in southeast Rochester, 55904, had more than twice as many cases per 10,000 residents as the ZIP code in southwest Rochester, 55902.

Heather Nessler, executive director of communications, said although there is a proposal to reopen the elementary schools, there could be instances where individual schools would have to close "due to transmission, or lack of staffing."

The change follows an update from Gov. Tim Walz, who announced on Dec. 16 that elementary school students would be able to return to the classroom starting Jan. 18.