HHS new entrance

The COVID-19 situation in McLeod County is rapidly changing and Hutchinson Public Schools have made plans to keep up.

Changes were announced last week to move all secondary students to distance learning starting Monday, Nov. 16. All elementary students began hybrid learning Monday, Nov. 16, and they will move to full distance learning Monday, Nov. 30.

At the Nov. 9 School Board meeting, Superintendent Daron VanderHeiden reported the district had 12 confirmed COVID-19 cases among students — three at the elementary level and nine at the secondary level. Three staff were confirmed to have COVID-19. As a result of those cases and other cases in the community, 200 students and 28 staff have been quarantined as a precaution. VanderHeiden said the quarantine numbers are comparable to other districts.

The quarantine of staff has made it challenging for the school to maintain sufficient substitute teachers.

“If that number continues, it will even be more of a challenge where we might not be able to provide all the services we need,” VanderHeiden said.

In recent weeks, McLeod County Health and Human Services has anticipated a spike in local COVID-19 cases and believes the trend will continue. On Nov. 16, the county reached 1,376 cases. A week prior there were 1,080 cases, up from 755 cases a week before then.

The school district has been tracking the climb as well, and watching the county’s 14-day new case rate per 10,000 residents. The state uses this model to advise schools on which learning model is most appropriate. New 14-day case rates are released by the state every Thursday, but they always reflect rates from two weeks prior. Schools are directed to use more cautious models — including a hybrid model with half the student body learning from home, and complete digital learning from home — as the number increases.

On Nov. 5, the county’s rate was 18.14. On Nov. 12 it reached 40.47. With a rate of 40, schools are usually advised to move secondary students to distance learning, and elementary students to hybrid learning. With a rate above 50, schools are usually advised to have complete distance learning.

VanderHeiden told board members current data showed the Nov. 19 rate could be between 80 and 100, and beyond that it was unknown.

“We were one of the shining stars in Minnesota with one of the lowest rates, now three weeks later we’re toward the top,” VanderHeiden said.


With schools switching to distance learning, it brings questions regarding other school activities such as fall and winter sports.

“As of right now, the plan is to keep moving forward with everything we have scheduled,” said Activities Director Thayne Johnson.

He said the school will follow safety and crowd guidelines, and that the Minnesota State High School League offered additional guidance for winter sports safety.

“Every indication we’ve received from the State High School League is they plan to continue winter seasons,” Johnson said.

Recent safety changes announced by the governor did not include school sports.