Rochester Public Schools updates on COVID plan, distance learning

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(ABC 6 News) – Students and staff with Rochester Public Schools moved to distance learning Tuesday.

The district is citing staffing shortages, rather than concern over growing case numbers among students. However, district leaders at Tuesday night’s school board meeting assured parents that students will return to the classroom at the of the month.

Some are left wondering how this change will impact the district’s Safe and Open Schools Plan. At the meeting, board members announced that there will be some changes to the mitigation plan when students return in-person on January 31.

"Is two weeks the beginning of distance learning for the duration of the school year? We are absolutely committed to bringing students back January 31," Interim Superintendent Kent Pekel said.

RPS said it will resume contact tracing when students return to school. After a brief pause to redirect resources elsewhere, the district will again notify people in close contact with a confirmed COVID case. For those who are in close contact, RPS will also update quarantine guidance.

"Quarantine is also only used for individuals who are unvaccinated. So our vaccinated individuals are not placed in quarantine," Communications Director Heather Nessler clarified in the meeting.

This matches new CDC recommendations. The unvaccinated will only isolate for five days ss long as they return with a negative test and mask up. Starting Feb. 14, school leaders will also roll out the RPS Test to Stay program. Test to Stay involves daily rapid antigen tests, and symptom screening for unvaccinated kids in close contact with COVID.

"Parents will opt-in. You do not have to participate in this program but it is a way to keep students that are unvaccinated in our schools," Nessler said.

The school board will host a virtual listening session on Thursday for parents to voice their thoughts and concerns. The link to register in advance can be found here.