With a growing cluster of COVID-19 cases following an informal gathering of Brainerd students, Superintendent Laine Larson urges the public to follow health guidelines.

Students in grades 9-12 at Brainerd High School, Lincoln Education Center and Brainerd Learning Center were not in class Wednesday, Sept. 23, and will begin classes remotely Thursday. They are expected to return to their regular hybrid learning schedule Oct. 8.

What Larson described as a growing cluster of students testing positive for COVID-19 first came to the district’s attention late Monday night.

“Tuesday morning we met to start doing the contact tracing of the students, and as the day went on, there were more and more students that were testing positive,” Larson said during a phone interview Wednesday, Sept. 23, noting administrators became concerned with the rapidly changing numbers.

Larson said she could not give a concrete number of cases but when asked if it was 50 or more students, she said it was not that many.

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Laine Larson
Laine Larson

The Minnesota Department of Health then recommended the best way to stop the growing positive tests was to essentially “restart” the school year in hybrid mode after two weeks of distance learning. So far, Larson said, there is no evidence of the virus spreading within the school facility.

“We’re very happy about that,” she said. “We’re not happy we’re not in school. And I’m just asking everyone to please, please follow those guidelines so that we can keep our schools open and keep our kids on site.”

Teachers — who will remain in the building — took Wednesday to prepare their remote lessons.

“They are the most prepared because they have had the 1:1 technology the longest and have been doing the 1:1 work with their students for the last two years,” Larson said of the high school teachers. “And with the additional professional development that we were able to provide since March, we really feel that we’re ready to go in providing a great model for our kids. But again, we all know that the best education, the happy education for all of us is to have our kids in person with our teachers. And our goal is to get them back there in two weeks.”

Under the hybrid model, high school students were split into two groups, with group A attending classes in person Mondays and Tuesdays, and group B attending in person Thursday and Friday. Wednesdays were a distance learning day for all.

No high school sports or activities will take place in person during the two weeks of distance learning.

Though the school district promotes social distancing, mask wearing and other precautions in its facilities, Larson urges the rest of the community to do the same at all times as well so the kids can get back into school with their teachers in a safe learning environment.

“One of the things that I talk about quite often is that I think education is a community partnership focused on education, and it takes everybody working together to provide that high quality learning,” she said. “... And what that means is that every one of us — everybody in our community — needs to follow the guidelines that are recommended by MDH and the CDC to help keep our schools open — wearing face coverings, staying home when we’re sick, washing our hands frequently, social distancing, staying out of large groups — all those things.

“And I cannot reiterate enough that it takes all of us to work together to make that happen.”

THERESA BOURKE may be reached at theresa.bourke@brainerddispatch.com or 218-855-5860. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchTheresa.