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Virtual Learning Update

Dear colleagues,Joe Gothard headshot

As you know, SPPS implemented new metrics last week to serve as a baseline for determining if individual schools need to temporarily shift to virtual learning. While some of our neighboring districts have opted for a full two-week shift, others remain fully in person, while still others have taken a school-by-school approach. This patchwork of learning models is confusing and constantly changing, and I want to provide the rationale for why we chose our approach and how it’s going so far.

In a district as large and diverse as SPPS, it is virtually impossible to implement a policy or process that impacts every school, staff member and student the same way. Some of our schools have struggled with transportation, staff shortages and student absences, and we continue to work to alleviate those issues as best we can. At the same time, there are many schools that have experienced very few obstacles and are thriving. That is why I feel strongly about approaching any shifts to virtual learning on a local level that causes as little disruption as possible for families, students and staff across the district.

Is this a perfect system? Of course not, but it’s a starting point. Everyone is doing their best to make learning possible under seemingly impossible circumstances. We are continuing to monitor and adjust our process, with the goal of providing as much continuity and predictability as possible for our students during this time. Omicron is starting to trend in the right direction, and while we hope we won’t need to do this for very long, we also know that this pandemic is anything but predictable and we need to be prepared for any possibility. 

At this time, seven of our schools (roughly 10%) have shifted to virtual learning. Of those, four schools (Creative Arts, Humboldt, Galtier and River East) began on Friday, and three (Central, Highwood Hills and Saint Paul Music Academy) began their five calendar days on Saturday (meaning three days of virtual learning for all seven schools). 

During this period, school staff will report, buses will run, and meals will be served for every student who needs that support. Distance learning cannot be required this year, there’s no “hybrid,” and many students don’t have the option to stay home, which means our buildings must remain open and staffed. I want to thank our principals and all the staff involved for planning and managing this process and ensuring it is being implemented as equitably and smoothly as possible, knowing that there will be bumps along the way.

Many have asked why 25% and why only classroom teachers. It’s important to note that this metric is only the first point of consideration. All of our staff are valued and integral parts of our school communities, and every absence has an impact. Once a school hits the 25% threshold, they work collaboratively to look at who else is out, what other barriers are impacting their ability to remain in person, and what they expect over the next several days before making a final decision.

I also want to thank our Tier 2 subs and other district staff for stepping out of their normal duties and lending a hand in our schools during this time. If you haven’t already done so, please take advantage of the medical grade or optional N95 masks, weekly staff testing, and vaccine and booster shots that are readily available for all staff, as well as the free rapid tests from the federal government and other community-based COVID-19 resources. Thank you all for working together as one SPPS community.

In partnership,

Joe Gothard signature

Joe Gothard, Superintendent