District moves to distance learning for all students

In a letter sent on November 12, 2020, Superintendent Muñoz explained the need for our school district to move to a complete distance learning model for everyone. His announcement is listed below: 

Dear Parents, Students, and District Staff Members, 

These unprecedented times have made us reconsider how we go about educating our students, and the impressive levels of collaboration with our parents, guardians, students, partners, and staff show that we are, indeed, all in this together. 

To date, Rochester Public Schools (RPS) has relied upon and used guidance from state and local health department officials, local medical experts and Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) to advise our practices. We will continue to reference this data, as well as our own data. 

The data we utilize has been rapidly moving in the wrong direction, so much so that we are announcing Phase III, a move to all Distance Learning across PreK-Grades 12. This announcement comes before our targeted “on or around November 23” date because the 

most current 14-day Olmsted County cases per 10,000 is at 65.23. This information is more “real time” than the data Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) publishes. For instance, today MDH published a 14-day case rate at 42.27 for the weeks of October 18 – October 31. This data lags the county’s data by about two weeks, therefore, the District works closely with Olmsted County Public Health (OCPH) on the most recent data. 

MDE outlines parameters in the Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-2021 School Year that Districts must follow. Districts can be more restrictive than these parameters, but never less restrictive. The parameters state that when the number of cases per 10,000 over 14 days, by county of residence reaches 50+, the District must move to Distance Learning for all students. More information on the data later. 

Here is what this means for RPS: 

Phase III, all Distance Learning for RPS students, will begin on Wednesday, November 18. 

There will be no school on Monday, November 16, and Tuesday, November 17, for the following groups: 

  • Students in grades PreK-Grade 5 who are currently participating in hybrid learning  
  • Students at Lincoln K-8 who are currently participating in hybrid learning 
  • Middle, High School, and Transition-age Special Education students who are currently receiving in-person instruction 
  • Newcomers classes at the Middle and High schools 
  • Middle School Right Fit 

School will remain in session on Monday, November 16, and Tuesday, November 17, for the following groups: 

  • Students that are currently in full-time Distance Learning in grades PreK-12 Note: In-person supports will no longer be available starting Monday, November 16. Plans to provide these virtually will be shared by buildings. 

November 16 and 17 will serve as planning days for elementary teachers and other teachers who have been providing in-person instruction as we transition to the DL model. 



Staff planning days for some staff Monday, November 16 and Tuesday, November 17 Phase III – all Distance Learning – begins Wednesday, November 18 

Phase III – all Distance Learning – will remain in effect through Friday, January 8, 2021 

The District will continue to review data regularly. The COVID Advisory Team will meet on a biweekly basis. Our ultimate goal remains to bring students back to school in person, safely. If the data allows, the District will review a change in the model (turning the dial forward) sooner. 


In order to address the safety and wellness for our students, staf , and families, the District will transition to a Distance Learning only model beginning Wednesday, November 18. 

Students PreK – Grade 12 will participate in Distance Learning Monday – Friday. The District will continue to provide mental health support to students virtually. The District will continue to provide a student / family technology support virtually by calling 1-800-789-0051.

Your school will communicate additional information necessary such as special area calendars, schedules, distance learning student expectations, and so on. 


MDH states that if Districts move to Distance Learning due to county data/case rates and COVID-19 spread, all athletics and extracurricular activities will move to virtual only. As of Wednesday, November 18, all athletics, activities, Community Education programs, and rentals will cease. 

This includes all Community Education programs for early childhood, youth, adults, and adults with exceptional abilities, with the exception of the State-mandated Child Care for Critical Workers discussed later. Watch for more information from Community Education regarding any program for which you were registered. Rentals of District facilities by community organizations are suspended until further notice. 


The District’s COVID-19 Advisory Team, consisting of experts from Olmsted County Public Health (OCPH), Mayo Clinic, School Board, District Cabinet, union leadership, District COVID-19 Coordinators, and the Superintendent, reviews multiple segments of data. This group meets every two weeks to discuss state, county, and district data, effectiveness of mitigation efforts, and communication needs. The purpose of the team is to review data that will protect our students and staff, with the ultimate goal of bringing our entire District back together, in-person, safely. 

State Data: Data for K-12 Schools: 14-day COVID-19 Case Rate County by County. This data is updated every Thursday, but is two-weeks behind current time. This is important data to consider as it shows trends over time. However, as we have seen the number of positive cases in our county increase drastically, we know it is important to utilize more “real time” data in making decisions. 

County Data: Olmsted County Public Health data dashboard. 

We review daily new cases, percent positive, and the percent of known community exposure. The District looks at trends with this data. In order to move forward in the safe learning model to full in-person learning, the number of cases per 10,000 on a 14-day average must remain steady at 0-9 for two consecutive reporting periods. In order to move to hybrid, the number of cases per 10,000 must remain at 10-15 cases per 10,000. 

District Data: District’s COVID-19 Dashboard 

We use both the number of COVID-19 cases affecting district students and staf , and operational data (staffing, transportation, maintenance), in order to effectively meet the learning needs of the students. The District dashboard is updated every Monday and denotes the cumulative number of positive cases since the start of the school year, cumulative number of individuals in quarantine related directly to those positive cases, as well as the number of new cases and number of new individuals in quarantine from the previous week. 

Again, the District will continue to review data regularly and make adjustments with planning times for families and staff as soon as it reasonably possible. 


Child care for Tier One critical workers continues at John Adams Middle School. Parents currently registered for this care do not need to register again. Parents who need to add 

this care must register through the regular School Age Child Care registration system. 

Care is available for children on approved contracts only. All contracts will remain pending until approved. Applying updated guidance from the Minnesota Department of Education, we will approve contracts in the following priority order, as space allows: 

  • Households where all parents/guardians in the household are Tier One critical workers who are required to be at work 
  • As space allows, households with at least one parent/guardian Tier One critical worker who is required to be at work 
  • As space allows, households without Tier One critical workers 

MDE defines Child Care for Critical Workers (CCfCW) this way, “The school-age care for children of critical workers is intended for extreme circumstances in which no parent or guardian is at home, due to employment as a critical worker. If it is a two-parent household and one is not a critical worker, a school is not required to provide free school age care to the family, but the school could choose to provide the care, if they have the capacity to do so while ensuring health and safety requirements can still be met.” 


Beginning Friday, November 20, RPS Student Nutrition Services will be offering 5-day Meal Kits for children 1-18 years old regardless of meal price eligibility. Note: The last day for daily, drive-through lunch pick-up at school buildings will be Thursday, November 19. 

Meal kits will consist of heat-and-serve and ready-to-eat entrees, plus fruit, vegetables and milk. Instructions for storage and preparation are included. No pre-registration or paperwork is required. 

Meal kits will be available for drive-through pick-up on Friday, November 20, and Tuesday, November 24, 10 AM -12 PM, at the Olmsted County Fairgrounds, Graham Park Building #35 (1403 3rd Avenue SE).  

Please enter the Fairgrounds at the 14th Street and Broadway intersection. Proceed to Fairgrounds Avenue.  Enter Building #35 from the north end. If able, please open/unlock the trunk or leave a seat open where the meal kit can be placed. 

The District’s drive-through hot lunch locations will be out of service for the winter months. More information regarding the December meal kit pick up dates will be available following the Thanksgiving Break. 


The most important actions each of us can take to further protect ourselves and our families include: 

  • Staying home if you are sick 
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water; covering your cough and sneeze; avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands 
  • Practicing self-care by eating a healthy diet and taking time to rest 
  • Frequently cleaning all commonly touched surfaces 
  • Wearing proper face coverings 
  • Avoiding large gatherings, especially with people outside of your household 

COVID-19 symptoms are currently separated out into two groups by MDH. Symptoms that are more common to COVID: 

  • Fever of 100.4 or greater 
  • New onset and/or worsening cough 
  • Difficulty breathing 
  • New loss of taste or smell 
  • Symptoms that are less common to COVID: 
  • Sore throat 
  • Nausea 
  • Vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Chills 
  • Muscle pain 
  • Excessive fatigue 
  • New onset of severe headache 
  • New onset of nasal congestion or runny nose 

I know this information is disappointing to some. Not only is the MDE Safe Learning Plan for the 2020-21 School Year’s learning model parameters mandating this decision, but the concerns for the health and safety of our students, staff , and general community are at the center of all of our decisions during this pandemic. 

Be well, 

Michael Muñoz