Austin Public Schools has made the decision to move to distance learning that will last through March 19.
In an email to parents Wednesday night, Superintendent David Krenz explained the reasoning behind the move.
“A significant level of COVID-19 is occurring in our contracted bus service, significantly impacting our ability to transport students,” he said. “At this time, all in-person learning will need to be suspended.”
On Thursday, during a press conference with Palmer Bus Company COO Shane Johnson, Krenz went into more detail on the move, explaining how the situation ballooned so quickly from two drivers to at present 13 drivers confirmed to have COVID-19.
“We’ve been working with Palmer Bus and the Minnesota Department of Health as we looked at all the information we’ve received in the last five to six days,” Krenz said Thursday.
The cases started this weekend when two drivers tested positive for COVID-19. The district helped Palmer with testing and by Wednesday there were five total cases, but officials with the district and with Palmer thought they could stay on top of it.
As of around 4:30 p.m. Wednesday afternoon, Palmer told the district they could still manage with the drivers available, but just over an hour later the MDH called the district and Palmer to let them know they were registering a total of 12 cases.
“With the numbers we were seeing it looked positive that we could get drivers from different locations to come down and keep driving,” Johnson said of the initial numbers.
But as cases began building the company decided it was too much.
“We just thought we don’t have the resources in that short of time to continue transportation,” Johnson said. “Not knowing how deep and wide this was, are you putting other folks in a potential place of getting COVID? We just don’t know.”
While it was possible that drivers who did not know they had COVID-19 could have been driving during the first two days of the week, Krenz said there have been no indication so far of the coronavirus expanding into the schools.
“We have not noticed that at this time,” Krenz said. “We’re sending out another letter specific to the bus students and families asking them to monitor for any possible changes to their health.”
Copy of the email sent to families:
Dear Austin Public Schools families,
After very careful review, we have decided to make the difficult decision to move to a distance learning period beginning tomorrow, March 11 through March 19, with in person and hybrid learning resuming on March 22. A significant level of Covid-19 is occurring in our contracted bus service, significantly impacting our ability to transport students. At this time, all in person learning will need to be suspended.
Extracurricular transportation guidance will be provided by coaches and advisors.
CLC, Woodson, and elementary schools will be using the flexible learning bingo card on Thursday and will be in contact with their families about acquiring the necessary materials for this distance learning period.
Kids Korner will be closed beginning March 11 and an emergency childcare plan will be communicated with a start date of March 15.
Grab and go breakfast and lunch will be available at every site for pick up from 11:30 AM to 12:30 PM.
Thank you for your understanding,