At a Nov. 12 school board meeting, Jordan Public Schools administrators announced that due to a spike in countywide and citywide COVID-19 case numbers, all grades will be transitioned to distance learning by Nov. 23.
At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, JPS adopted a hybrid model where students were on a rotation for safe use of classroom space. Younger elementary students in grades K-4 were prioritized for building space.
Within the last two weeks, Scott County public health officials have reported a jump from 60.68 cases per 10,000 residents, to 105.81 per 10,000. The announcement of these numbers caused nearby districts including those in Shakopee, Burnsville, Savage and Prior Lake to transition their schools to completely online.
Last week, district administrators met to look at city-specific data. As of Nov. 7, there were 177.3 cases per 10,000 residents (97 confirmed cases) in Jordan.
Since Aug. 30, there have been a total of 18 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the district, including six in the last week alone. There were two new staff cases within the last week week, a total of seven since the school year began.
Superintendent Ranae Case Evenson said that although county and city case numbers are high, public health officials have not attributed school activities as a key contributing factor.
“Community spread has really started to impact our operations,” she said.
Case Evenson said staff were already spread thin with spacing needs to accommodate social-distancing while juggling both in-person and online students. When a staff member needs to be quarantined due to positive test results, it has become increasingly difficult to find someone else to fill in.
Jordan Elementary School Principal Melissa Barnett said as of Thursday, Nov. 12, staff has been scrambling to fill needs throughout the school.
“We’ve had to pull all of our (reading and math program) staff to help cover in classrooms . . . we also had to pull our ESL teacher . . . we’ve also lost half of our one-on-one para support as of today, which means teachers are having to take on more of that role in supporting our special ed students . . .” Barnett said.
Jordan High School Principal Jeff Vizenor said although the high school learning model provides more flexibility with many materials available online, when multiple teachers are out, issues begin to arise.
“I think it was Monday or Tuesday, we may have had five staff members out, and unfortunately they all kind of landed in the same grade level,” said Vizenor. “So we had students out in the commons for multiple hours a day. That’s where we see the effect most — it really affects a certain group of kids, and is a challenge to them.”
Jordan Middle School Principal Ben Bakeberg echoed the challenges COVID-19 has created in terms of classroom coverage.
“What typically in a normal year would be something we would just power through, we haven’t been able to do, and that’s had a significant impact on the programming that we’re doing,” said Bakeberg.
Back to distance learning
Students will complete the majority of their coursework online. However, unlike the distance model the district put in place in the spring, teachers will be on-site throughout the day for those who are identified as needing additional support. Students who may fall under this category include those with disabilities, English learners, students experiencing homelessness and those with other identified learning difficulties. Transportation for these students will be provided, Case Evenson said.
Grades K-4 will have a series of “student prep days” Nov. 16-17 to help them prepare to shift to online learning.
Grades 5-12 will rotate, with the “A” group on-site Nov. 16 and the “B” group Nov. 17, to prepare for the switch.
Nov. 18-20, there will be no school district-wide so staff can focus on preparing for Nov. 23, when all grades will be fully online.
Fall activities will finish out their seasons. If COVID cases and quarantines do not increase, there are no major staff challenges, and there are still teams to compete against. Winter activities and high school fine arts will continue.
‘Not the announcement we wanted to make’
“No one wants to be in this situation,” said School Board Clerk Sandy Burke. “But I also ask for the community’s help to try to get our numbers down so that we can return.”
Staff also encouraged community members to reach out to staff as they navigate the shift together.
“Follow the guidelines,” Burke said. “And hopefully that will help bring the numbers down, because everybody wants to get our kids back learning.”