LAKEVILLE, Minn. — Friday, Lakeville Community School district announced changes to their district-wide COVID-19 response to prioritize in-person learning. While many parents applaud the change, others are concerned it will sacrifice the safety of students, their families, and the educators who serve them.
Changes include: a once-weekly email notifying parents about positive cases and close contact, instead of individual emails; no longer closing Pre-K through grade five classrooms when there are four or more cases of COVID; and if a student is kept at home to learn and is not sick, they will be marked with an unexcused absence.
The change comes at a time when the case rate per 10,000 residents in Dakota County is 212.8 – more than four times the threshold of "high transmission," which is 50.
"It kind of felt like the rug had been pulled out from under us," said Jenny Jungwirth, parent of a daughter who is in first grade. "Because we had these mitigation strategies in place that said, when we get to this point, this is what we will do. And now we are at that point, and they took those things away."
Jungwirth is the organizer of a Facebook group comprised of parents who advocating for a safe return to school. Saturday, half-a-dozen parents and grandparents from that group shared their concerns with KARE 11.
Amber Aslakson, a former special education teacher, is a part of that group. She said she wishes she had the option to move her child, who is in Kindergarten, to online learning for a few weeks, hoping that case rates will drop. She says she'd like the option to educate her child at home while other parents who wish can send their children to the school buildings.
"I know how hard it is for some of those programs to be replicated online. I know," Aslakson said. "But could we get the majority of the students out of the buildings, so that we can allow those students and those families who really need help and support and focus, to have access in a safe environment. I could be one less person bringing germs into the building."
However, parents who support the change believe that just isn't practical. A group of four parents, who chose to remain anonymous, spoke with KARE 11, citing the hot button issue as a reason for anonymity. They believe concerned parents should enroll in LinK12, Lakeville's fully online academy. That switch would mean a family would need to commit for the remainder of the school year.
"If they are that distressed about their children's health, omicron isn't going to be gone in two weeks of distance learning," said one parent, who chose to remain anonymous. "This is going to be going on for awhile, and I don't think it's fair to the children or the teachers to have an option where they flip-flop back and forth, because the LinK12 teachers don't teach the same stuff at the same time as the [public schools] do. So to keep things consistent, they need to pick one option or the other."
Parents who support Lakeville's changes, calling it a "relief," say in-person is the best option to accommodate working parents.
"Especially if you’re a working parent, and even if you work from home, you cannot possibly get the amount of work done that you’re required to to meet the requirements of your job, and also help your child’s education," said the parent.
A separate parent who is a part of the group that supports the change said it isn't feasible for educators to keep accommodating both distance and in-person learning simultaneously.
"That is going to burn out every teacher that we have, and I already know they're at their wits' end, which is why it needs to be LinK12," she said.
However, for some parents, LinK12 won't be an option. In an email (attached below) sent to parents and shared with KARE 11, the district informed parents that some middle school grades and all high school grades are already at capacity for LinK12.
"Please consider that some middle school grade levels are full and high school courses are full for the rest of the year. Contact Amy Bercich...for more information," the email reads.
If the district moves to fully-online, concerned parents hope they can, at the very least, receive individual emails about contact tracing.
"At a minimum, they need to keep the contact tracing in place," said Kristi Moore. Because I need to know whether or not I need to test my kids."
Moore said aging parents are in her COVID-19 "bubble," which leaves her concerned.
"I just feel helpless as a parent...I feel like my hands are tied," Moore said. "I also co-parent because I'm divorced. And my ex-husband has a 6-month-old; she obviously can't get vaccinated."
Parents who support Lakeville tell KARE 11 they understand the importance of contact tracing emails, and ideally, they could receive them every day. But they feel it isn't feasible for teachers and school nurses who already have a lot on their plate.
"[Sending daily emails] just can't be done. At this point with the rate that COVID going around, it is just safest to assume that your kid could be exposed any day, not to mention they could be exposed at the grocery store, at the mall, shopping," one parent said. "I don't know if this is a make-it-or-break-it thing to know if your kid is sick. Everyone is watching their kid every day."
Meanwhile, the president of Education Minnesota Lakeville, says the 800-some licensed Lakeville teachers who are a part of the group feel "demoralized."
"We seem to be in-person at all costs, and my staff is not very happy with that," said Don Sinner, the organization's president of nearly two decades. "We do understand that there are students who need help. We made the adjustments for certain special education situations, that those kids could come in and get serviced and get their minutes, which is federally-required and which is the right thing to do. We know that there’s a middle ground. If you properly plan, you can bring kids in like Minneapolis is."
Sinner said teachers who have reached out to him don't feel supported.
"Right now, we’re four times over what would’ve put us in distance learning last year, and our staff really doesn’t understand why we are going to in-person at all costs and we’re not coming out," he said.