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Giving thanks and a much-needed break

Dear colleagues,

Joe Gothard headshotHeading into Thanksgiving break, I hope you are looking forward to a few days off and spending time with family and friends. The first few months of our return to a "normal" school year have been exciting and rewarding, but also extremely challenging for everyone—staff, students and families alike. With COVID-19 case rates continuing to rise and staff across the district taking on more responsibilities than ever, it is clear that we are still very far from "normal."

I wish this break didn’t mark the beginning of another pandemic holiday season, but that is our reality. I am proud of the work that SPPS has done, especially our Health and Wellness staff and so many others who have been working tirelessly to keep our schools as safe and healthy as possible. Contact tracing, quarantining, communicating with families, and constantly staying vigilant is exhausting work on top of already overflowing plates. While we have had many cases of COVID-19 in our schools, I know that without this hard work and the prevention strategies we have in place, these numbers could be a lot higher.

In the absence of executive orders in Minnesota, it is up to districts to implement their own policies. SPPS has and will continue to follow guidelines from the Minnesota Department of Health and will make adjustments based on this guidance and our needs as a district. We have had to quarantine classrooms throughout the district, and will continue to do so on a case-by-case, school-by-school basis. Our universal mask requirement, vaccine or testing requirement for staff, and reminders to keep students home and get tested if they are sick will continue. We are also urging everyone to get vaccinated, including boosters for staff who are eligible.

We are aware of schools and districts that have had to switch to distance learning due to staff shortages, and we are prepared to do that if it becomes necessary at any given building. I want to be clear that a districtwide shift to distance learning is not recommended by MDE or MDH as a preventative measure, short of an emergency situation or high rates of spread within a given school or district. If that were to happen, we would consult with our public health partners and act as advised.

I know that saying "thank you" may feel like words without meaning or action behind them. In addition to deploying licensed district staff to help with the sub shortage, we are discussing what else we can do to help alleviate the heavy weight that many of you are carrying. Our students need us more than ever, and that takes a toll. Please know that we are considering several options and will have more information after break. THANK YOU for all you do every day. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

In partnership,

Joe Gothard signature

Joe Gothard, Superintendent