WAPS to move all grade levels, buildings to distance learning

All grade levels distance learning

Hello Winona Area Public Schools families, 

We are terribly sorry to inform you that all students in Winona Area Public Schools will shift to distance learning immediately.

The move will affect all levels. 

The public health situation deteriorated much faster than we anticipated. As much as we would have liked to give more advance warning, we are concerned that we are exposing our students, staff and their families to infection if we don’t act now.

Friday, Nov. 13 and Monday, Nov. 16 are now designated as instructional planning days, and there will be no instruction delivered to any of our students. This includes our middle school students who are already in distance learning, as well as our distance learning only students, so our staff can support one another.

Instruction will resume in distance learning on Tuesday, Nov. 17. Wednesday, Nov. 18 will return to a distance learning day and will not be an instructional planning day as was announced last week. More information will be provided to you from either your classroom teacher or building principal.

All athletics and activities are suspended beginning Friday, Nov. 13 until further notice.

The move to distance learning for all (Winhawk Learning Model No. 5) will last at least through winter break until Monday, Jan. 4. We will continue to monitor the situation and provide an update to our community before the break begins. This includes the middle school, which moved to distance learning on Tuesday.

Simply put, we are heartbroken. We have been able to remain in our hybrid model to this point because our students and staff have done a remarkable job of wearing masks, maintaining physical distancing and washing hands. We know how much our students loved being at school, even for just two days a week. We know how much they appreciated the opportunity to participate in athletics and activities. We know how much being in school had a positive impact on their education, their relationships with their teachers, and their mental health.

However, the continued community spread of COVID-19 has posed a threat to the health and safety of our WAPS community. The WAPS Incident Command Team considered the following data when making the decision: 

  • There were six confirmed positive cases among WAPS students and staff last week and 29 since the first day of school. More than 200 individuals (students and staff) are currently in quarantine or isolation, and the number continues to rise with each positive test that is reported.
  • As more teachers are absent due to quarantine or illness, we are having difficulty finding substitute teachers. In some cases, principals are stepping as substitute teachers. This is not sustainable.
  • The positivity rate in Winona County has jumped to 4.4 percent, up from 3.9 percent the week prior. 
  • The official 14-day case rate reported today is above 60, and the unofficial 14-day case rate that we are tracking internally has doubled in the past 10 days. We are now over 100 in our projected 14-day rate, which is double the MDH recommended high of 50 for hybrid learning for Grades K-6. 
  • State and local health officials warn that the situation will continue to worsen as more gatherings are held indoors over the holidays.

The move was supported by Winona County public health officials. We will continue to consult with public health experts and monitor the data to determine when it is safe for in-person learning to resume. 

Free Meals

Our School Nutrition staff will remain committed to feeding all students in Winona during this transition to distance learning. All students — not just those who attend a WAPS school — can receive free breakfast and lunch through the end of the school year. The meals are available to everyone regardless of income.

Free meals are distributed on Wednesdays at the following locations and times 

  • Winona Senior High School, 901 Gilmore Ave., Winona, 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m. OR noon to 1 p.m.
  • Winona Middle School, 1570 Homer Road, Winona, noon to 1 p.m.
  • Maplewood Townhomes, 1756 Kraemer Drive, Winona, noon to 12:30 p.m.
  • East End Recreation Center, 210 Zumbrota Street, Winona, noon to 12:30 p.m.

Families can order meals for one, three or five days. Meals will include both breakfast and lunch.

All families will order the meal kits through a one-time online meal order form linked here

If families are already receiving meals and would like to increase the number of meals they receive, they should contact Leilla Cady, District Nutrition Secretary at leilla.cady@winona.k12.mn.us or 507-494-0830.

Child Care

WAPS will offer free School Age Child Care for Winona Area Public Schools enrolled children of Tier I essential workers during school hours only. Care before and after school hours is available for a fee. To qualify for free care, all parents or guardians need to be considered Tier I essential workers and be scheduled to work during regular school hours. The care will be provided at the child’s assigned elementary school or the middle school. The care is offered through Key Kids. Care is also available to Winona Area Public Schools enrolled district families for a fee if space allows. Please register through the Key Kids website linked here. New registrations may take up to 72 business hours to process and admission is on a space-available basis. A waitlist has been created. Families already enrolled for care may use it starting Friday, Nov. 13. 

Tier I essential worker families will receive transportation. Enrolled families who do not qualify as Tier I essential workers will need to request transportation and it will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis. Email Director of Community Education Ann Riebel, ann.riebel@winona.k12.mn.us, for additional transportation information.

Special Education 

The district will explore providing in-person instruction and services to students with disabilities whose individualized education program calls for intensive services that are significantly less effective when provided in a distance learning model. We will consider our overall ability to provide a safe and healthy learning environment as well as available personnel to provide services. We will contact families who may have the option to receive in-person services during distance learning.

Athletics and activities

At the direction of the Minnesota Department of education, all athletics and activities will be suspended effective Friday, Nov. 13. There is the possibility that athletics and activities could resume before we shift back from distance learning, however, based on the levels of the pandemic in our community and the number of high school students needing to quarantine or isolate, we will pause for at least two weeks and re-evaluate in December.

What happens next? 

The distance learning period will begin Tuesday, Nov. 17. Wednesday, Nov. 18 will return to a distance learning day and will not be an instructional planning day as was announced last week. We are going to continue with the A-B-Wednesday model during distance learning at all levels. 

Staff will work on updating distance learning plans during their instructional planning days. Be on the lookout for updates posted to winonaschools.org/safe. Any changes will also be communicated to you by your classroom teacher or building principal. 

Thank you 

Thank you for your grace, your patience and your empathy as we have worked to provide the best educational experience for all of our students. Please let us know how we can help support you during this transition. Reach out to your classroom teacher, your building principal, a counselor or social worker or anyone in the WAPS community with whom you have a connection.

Thank you for your support,

Dr. Annette K. Freiheit
Superintendent
Winona Area Public Schools