High case rate is not causing changes in Willmar, NLS learning models

Cases of COVID-19 have been climbing steadily in recent weeks, and Kandiyohi County has one of the state's highest rates for new cases. The learning models in the two school districts based in the county aren't going to change, at least for now. School officials say they are monitoring the situations in their individual communities and are ready to make adjustments if needed for the safety of students and staff.


The Willmar and New London-Spicer public schools do not plan to change their learning model for now.

Both districts are located entirely in Kandiyohi County, which has one of the state’s highest rates of new COVID-19 cases.

The 14-day case rate released each week by the state is one thing considered in deciding whether to change how it teaches its students during the pandemic.

Last week, the 14-day case rate jumped to 75.48 per 10,000 people in Kandiyohi County, the third-highest rate in the state.

The case rate was used to determine how schools opened in the fall. Since then, the state has urged school leaders to focus on conditions in each community and each building, while considering the well-being of students, staff and families. The case rate is one part of the decision-making.


Both districts started the school year with in-person classes for elementary students and a hybrid learning model for their middle and high schools.

A week ago, Willmar moved its elementary schools to hybrid learning, too.

That move came after the district experienced a higher level of COVID-19 cases in the elementary schools.

“We are continuing to monitor the situation,” Willmar Superintendent Jeff Holm said in an email Monday.

Holm and NLS Superintendent Bill Adams described the process they follow in considering whether to change a learning model.

They discuss their district’s situation with a regional support team through the Southwest West Central Service Cooperative, Kandiyohi County Public Health officials and the district’s own incident command team. The district teams include employees from all areas of the district as well as parents and other members of the community.

Adams said he has also appreciated the collaborative network developed between superintendents in the area.

Both Willmar and NLS have experienced quarantines of individuals or classrooms due to contact with a person who’s COVID positive.


While the quarantines can be frustrating, “people are understanding of it,” Adams said.

It was the large number of students and staff who underwent quarantine in the first month of the school year that prompted Willmar to switch to hybrid learning. Roosevelt Elementary School recently spent two weeks in distance learning after the coronavirus appeared to be spreading within the building.

With hybrid learning, students are split into two groups and attend in-person classes on alternate days, which reduces the number of students in a building at one time.

“We considered the fact that we had just shifted to the hybrid model earlier last week, as well as the fact that the positive cases we have experienced in schools in the hybrid model have been pretty contained,” Holm said. “We did not feel it was necessary to shift our learning model again this quickly.”

Adams said the NLS learning plan has been the same since school opened. “Obviously we hope this will last and we will continue to experience success,” he said. “We are certainly prepared” if things change.

The district has had few cases in its buildings, and “there’s no evidence of it being spread between buildings,” Adams said.

Adams and Holm said they are concerned about the increasing cases in the county. Adams said it’s frustrating to see cases climbing again.

“We are deeply concerned about the number of positive COVID cases being identified,” Holm said. “It appears the numbers for Kandiyohi County will probably continue to go up in the near future.”


The school district is following the state’s guidelines carefully, he said, and will continue to watch conditions.

In 42 years in the newspaper industry, Linda Vanderwerf has worked at several daily newspapers in Minnesota, including the Mesabi Daily News, now called the Mesabi Tribune in Virginia. Previously, she worked for the Las Cruces Sun-News in New Mexico and the Rapid City Journal in the Black Hills of South Dakota. She has been a reporter at the West Central Tribune for nearly 27 years.

Vanderwerf can be reached at email: or phone 320-214-4340
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