ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) — On Thursday, Rochester Public Schools announced all schools within the district will make the switch to distance learning on Nov. 18.
Rochester students could return to the classroom as soon as Jan. 11 — but it all depends on Olmsted County’s COVID-19 case count.
Superintendent Michael Muñoz discussed why the district needed to make the switch in a call on Friday morning.
“I know this is going to be challenging for families,” he said. “It’s also challenging for staff. But it’s the right decision to make at this time.”
Minnesota Health officials made guidelines for school districts earlier this year. If a county has more than 50 cases per 10,000 residents over a 14-day average, all schools must enroll in distance learning. Muñoz said currently Olmsted has 65.23 cases per 10,000 residents.
Muñoz also said COVID-19 outbreaks have been impacting staffing at schools recently. In the last week alone, he said 40 cases have directly impacted the district, even causing two schools to move to distance learning. Muñoz would not disclose which schools had to make the switch.
While it’s not an ideal situation, Muñoz said the data is clear.
“It’s disappointing news,” he said. “It’s disappointing for us in the system. We would love to have control of this pandemic and have all of our students back every day, ‘get back to normal,’ as people are saying. But right now, that’s just not possible.”
The switch isn’t what many were hoping for, but the news of a vaccine brings hope to Muñoz and his RPS colleagues.
“Knowing that there’s light at the end of that tunnel, I think, mentally, it does have an impact on everyone, that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for everyone,” Muñoz said. “Our lives have been changed, and it hasn’t been a lot of fun. So, just knowing that there is some light there, it brings little hope in our minds. We will continue to use our data to make decisions. But it feels better knowing now that there is a possibility of that vaccine in the spring time.”
Muñoz said that district leaders will keep a close eye on the county’s COVID-19 numbers. If the district is able to bring students back early, they will.