Schedule changes in Eden Prairie 2nd through 6th graders’ current hybrid learning model won’t happen anytime soon. The as-is status update is based on a recommendation from Superintendent Josh Swanson at the October 26 School Board meeting.
Based primarily on the current rolling 14-day COVID-19 case rate in Eden Prairie, Swanson recommended to the board that no transition to a different learning model be implemented at this time. Instead, he recommended continuing to monitor monthly data with the goal of moving toward full-time in-person learning once it’s safe to do so.
Case rate data is based on the number of positive COVID-19 cases per 10,000 people over a two-week period. Twenty-three positive cases per 10,000 as of Oct. 20 falls in the middle of the “hybrid learning for all students” category as defined by the Stay Safe MN model established by Gov. Tim Walz.
Currently, kindergarten and first grade students are full-time in-person, elementary grades 2 through 6 and secondary students are in the hybrid model. Another 2,350 students have opted for the district’s EP Online option.
“In Eden Prairie we trended pretty low for a quite a while,” Swanson said. “We were down in that 11 to 15 range for quite a number of weeks. This past week our case rate data was at 23. So we’ve seen a significant uptick in our 14-day case rate data.”
According to information presented at the meeting, positive COVID-19 cases have been identified in seven of the district’s eight school buildings in the 14 days leading up to Oct. 22. Five staff and 18 students have been reported positive during that period. There are 1,825 staff and 8,768 students in the district. Staff include coaches, advisors, and reserve staff.
New numbers reported Oct. 30 on the district’s COVID-19 dashboard indicate 16 student and 10 staff cases as of the two weeks ending that day. The City of Eden Prairie was at 24.7 cases per 10,000 and Hennepin County was at 29 cases per 10,000.
Swanson said that the positive cases were not transmitted inside of the districts schools and described the district only as an identifier of cases.
“Our systems continue to work,” he said. “Our students are doing a great job of wearing masks, being conscious of social distancing, so are our staff. So that really has…kept our buildings safe places where that transmission isn’t happening.”
Swanson did describe some “isolated situations” involving a lack of social distancing, referencing sports and other activities that have not resulted in transmission but have resulted in quarantines.
In making his recommendation, Swanson emphasized the need for case rates to stabilize. “I’m looking to see that we have a stable case rate,” Swanson said. “… I want to see that not only in Eden Prairie but in our surrounding communities.”
Currently, he said, stabilizing of case rates is not happening.
Based on those factors, Swanson recommended that the district stay in its current model. “We have an instructional model that is working, that’s stable, that we’re able to contain and mitigate transmission inside of our schools,” he said.
Full-time, in-person learning: Staff and parent survey results
Stacie Stanley, associate superintendent of academics and intervention, reported results of a survey of staff and parents of 2nd through 6th grade students to gauge readiness to move to full-time in-person learning.
Sixty-seven percent of 1,144 parent responders reported that they were “very ready” for full-time in-person learning, she said. Another 22 percent were somewhat ready. Eleven percent reported being not ready.
The survey also asked parents if grades 2-6 moved to full-time in-person learning would they choose EP Online, the district’s virtual option. Almost 93 percent of responders said they would remain in brick and mortar school under those circumstances rather than opt for online learning.
Staff concerns revolved around the ability to provide 1:1 or small group instruction, mitigation processes required for an in-person model, and about the mental health and wellness of students and staff, Stanley said.
30 cases per 10,000 threshold set: Sports and activities
Superintendent Swanson addressed a question about what would force districts to stop participating in Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) activities. The Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Education and MSHSL have made those guidelines clear, Swanson said. “If we hit that 30 case rate data number (30 cases per 10,000), activities stop,” he said.
“If we were to elect, as many districts have, to go to a distance learning model prior to the (hitting the) 30 number, we would be able to still run activities and athletics until it hit that number.”
2020-21 enrollment: 1 percent decline
Eden Prairie Schools has seen a 1 percent decline in enrollment from last school year, according to Superintendent Swanson. He told school board members that districts across the state and metro area are experiencing more significant declines.
“Out of about 55 districts in the metro area, there are only two or three that haven’t seen a decline in enrollment, he said. “We are the absolute lowest percentage of decline in enrollment of the others. Our families really are sticking with us.”
Swanson attributed the modest decline to the district’s 2020-21 fall startup strategy that includes kindergarten and 1st grade being in school full time, the quality of distance learning last spring, that high school students are in school two days a week under the hybrid model, and the availability of the EP Online option.
Because the district anticipated an enrollment decline, the actual budget shortfall involves 90 fewer students, according to Jason Mutzenberger, executive director of business services. In total, there are more than 200 fewer students in the district this school year.
The district has experienced a slow enrollment decline over a number of years, Mutzenberger said, and he attributes part of that to the draw Eden Prairie represents. “This is a great place to live and empty nesters are staying within our city,” he said. The COVID-19 pandemic also likely played a part in this year’s decline, he said.