By Kate Raddatz

ST. PAUL (WCCO) — The state’s second largest school district is extending its winter break due to the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic. St. Paul Public Schools called off classes for Dec. 20 and 21 to give students a full two-week break.

The district encouraged families to use the time to get vaccinated or the booster shot.

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At a special board meeting Monday night, St Paul Public Schools superintendent Joe Gothard talked about the challenge of keeping schools adequately staffed during the pandemic.

“One of the busiest days, on a Friday last month, we had 300 absences in our District 13,” he said.

Gothard said the absences included a range of issues. The district was only able find subs for less than half of them.

“Those extra two days of break (are) just one way we can support what’s happening in the building,” Gothard said.

Shakopee Public Schools also addressed challenges of the pandemic, calling off two days of classes to extend the Thanksgiving break in an effort to control the spread of COVID cases.

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Minnesota currently has one of the worst COVID-19 infection rates in the country. More than 115,000 kids in the state ages 5-11 have gotten at least their first vaccine dose.

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht says schools all over the state are facing staffing challenges.

“We just received word the 10th educator has passed away because of school-related COVID. That’s 10 educators this academic year alone,” she said.

The Minnesota Department of Education sent a letter to students and families earlier this month outlining best practices to try to contain the spread of COVID cases in schools to continue in-person learning.

Gothard also says it’s been challenging to find enough staff to do contact tracing. Students in the district will now have an additional day of online learning in April to make up for the longer break.

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Kate Raddatz