Effective this Thursday, Nov. 5, Detroit Lakes High School has shifted from hybrid to distance learning for all students in grades 9-12.

In a letter to families that was sent out late Wednesday afternoon, via email and social media, Detroit Lakes High School Principal Darren Wolf announced the decision was made due to a rapid rise in COVID-19 infections at the high school.

Laker Families and Students, I regret to inform you that the district COVID team and I have decided to move the high...

Posted by Detroit Lakes Public Schools on Wednesday, November 4, 2020

"This immediate pivot to distance learning has been brought about by a spike of infections at the high school, as a result of several social gatherings this past weekend," Wolf wrote in the letter. "Right now we have at least 39 students quarantining and five that have already tested positive.

"This is the biggest number (of quarantined high school students) that we’ve ever had at one time," Wolf explained in a Thursday morning interview.

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Wolf added that the district's COVID-19 response team felt they needed to move rapidly to contain the spread of the virus as much as possible, and give health officials sufficient time to finish contact tracing on the large number of students who were infected.

"We need to err on the side of safety for students and staff at this time," he told parents in the letter.

Laker football's playoff hopes could be impacted

The large number of infections reported at the high school could have extracurricular implications as well: Shortly after the decision was announced late Wednesday afternoon, Laker head football coach Josh Omang sent out a letter to players and their families, urging them to do their part to help keep their season alive.

"Thankfully, at this time we are able to continue practicing and playing even though we have moved to distance learning," he wrote, adding that the players and their families have to do their part to ensure this continues, "including social distancing, limiting social gatherings especially with folks not normally in your circle, and wearing a mask."

Wolf noted that state education and public health officials are now allowing school athletic activities and practices to continue even when a district is forced to move to distance learning mode for one or more of its facilities.

"Over the last month and a half, MDH and MDE and the state high school league and Becker County have all said, 'We really see how important activities are for the wellbeing of our kids,'" Wolf said, but added that in order for practices and games to continue, all COVID-19 safety protocols — wearing masks, sanitizing, staying socially distanced as much as possible, etc. — must be observed continuously, and once a team's players or coaches test positive, they must follow the same quarantine guidelines as the school's staff and students.

With the football playoffs rapidly approaching, a quarantine situation would bring the Lakers' season to an abrupt end, he added.

"We are at the point in our season where positive cases by our players will likely result in the complete loss of our ability to participate in the playoffs," Omang explained in his letter. "The playoffs are scheduled to start Tuesday, Nov. 17. A 14-day quarantine due to positive cases on our team would obviously put us past that date, and again would result in our team having to end the season with a forfeit."

Wolf noted that Omang "has been doing a really good job" of making sure his players understand how their actions could impact the team's ability to continue their season uninterrupted.

Hybrid learning could resume as soon as Nov. 16

High school teachers and staff plan to continue with a fully remote learning model through at least Friday, Nov. 13, Wolf noted, but are optimistic that they will be able to switch back to a hybrid model as early as the following Monday, Nov. 16.

"We have a (COVID-19 response team) meeting again next Wednesday," he said. "If we don’t see an appreciable increase in the number of students testing positive, we could maybe come back (to a hybrid model) on the 16th. That is our hope."

Wolf added that DLHS students and their families will also have to do their part to make sure that hope becomes a reality.

"The biggest thing I would like to emphasize is just to encourage everybody to be vigilant," he said. "Do the social distancing, hand washing, wear masks and so forth."

He added that while district administration can't dictate what students and their families do outside of school, avoiding large group gatherings and limiting social interactions with strangers as much as possible is one way that they can do their part to ensure that high school students can start attending classes in person again.