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Fairmont Area Schools switches learning model

FAIRMONT — Only days after all public high schools in Martin County announced a switch to hybrid learning, Fairmont Area Schools on Tuesday opted to go to full distance learning, effective today.

Meanwhile, elementary students will move to an alternate hybrid learning model as of Monday. They will still come to school every day but sixth-graders will be moved to the high school, where there is a plan for dedicated learning space.

School officials say parents are encouraged to stay in close contact with their child’s school for details on how students will be affected.

Fairmont Area’s move comes as a result of a sharp increase in positive COVID-19 cases in Martin County over the past few days. Superintendent Joe Brown said a Tuesday afternoon conference call with the Minnesota Department of Health and local health officials helped cement the decision.

“We had a pretty lengthy discussion and a lot of good questions came up,” he said. “These numbers have increase significantly. On Sept. 16, we had 27 active cases; on Sept. 18, we had 37 active cases; on Sept. 21, we had 64 active cases; and then today they said we have 95 active cases plus maybe 10 more.

“With the number of public events happening, the expectation is that it’s going to continue to grow significantly. So the very firm recommendation from the MDH is that the high school go to distance learning and the elementary school go hybrid on Monday.”

In addition to classroom/learning changes, all extracurricular, sporting and social events — including homecoming events — are effectively cancelled.

Board member Nicole Green asked high school co-principal Alex Schmidt and elementary co-principal Andy Traetow if their respective teachers and staff are prepared for the change. Both said they were ready, thanks to pre-planned models for just such an occasion, as well as additional staff meetings.

“We’ll communicate by the end of the day (today) a timeline with our parents for when they can expect certain pieces of information, as well as what those parameters are,” Traetow said. “It is going to take us a couple of days to work with our high school administration and the bus company to make sure we have all those things in place.”

Board members delivered emotion-filled responses to the situation, laying blame squarely at the feet of Martin County residents for not following state guidelines.

“Our school district did everything right; our students did everything right,” Brown said. “It is frustrating to me that our adults in this region are not following medical advice. It really bothers me, and it’s embarrassing. Because of they way adults are acting in this community, and I’m talking countywide, it has an impact on our students.”

“We can only do so much, but what happens in the community we can’t control,” said board member Rufus Rodriguez. “I know personally that weddings, birthday parties and funerals are taking place where there’s no social distancing. So it takes one community transmission where a teacher becomes positive and a whole grade level becomes quarantined.

“This question of is mask-wearing effective, or right or wrong, is trivial compared to the importance of providing these kids with the education that they deserve.”

“There seems to be a certain sense among some people that it’s not real,” said board member Dan Brookens. “… We have to accept the fact that this is all of our fight, every one of us. It’s about time that some people look in the mirror and accept that the reason we’re in this is because of their failure.”

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