After the unexpected distance learning in spring 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, states have been planning options for the 2020-21 school year, with an official decision for Minnesota scheduled for July 27. The Minnesota Department of Education is looking at three options: in-person schooling, hybrid days and distance learning, as detailed in their planning guidance released on June 18.

The Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools planning committee met on June 18 to further prepare for the options with needs including technology, transportation and health measures. Superintendent Lee Westrum said he does not want to start with distance learning as students, staff and parents know the challenges with this model.

To address these challenges, a survey is being sent to families and staff about health concerns, if students could be dropped off if buses are limited due to social distancing and how many students would continue distance learning if in-person school is the option chosen. Elementary principal Louis Rutten also noted a possible K-12 platform to streamline the login process for parents with children in different grade levels through the program Modern Teachers.

Another technology issue the district will address is device access by purchasing 200 additional Chromebooks for seventh and eighth grade students. The Chromebooks were approved for $60,000 with a delivery in September, according to Westrum. The board approved the purchase of 300 Chromebooks for ninth-12th grade students in May for $96,000.

In-person

Westrum said the in-person model does not require social distancing though WDC plans to implement “lots of extra precautions” such as requiring students to go directly to their classrooms upon arrival, staggering lunch times and possibly having students alternate between use of the cafeteria or classrooms and releasing students between classes at intervals of two minutes. Staffing to supervise students who arrive at different times in the morning may be an issue, according to Westrum. The schools will also have health screenings for staff and students, including paraprofessionals on the buses to screen students.

Hybrid model

The hybrid days are complicated, according to Westrum, with strict social distancing and students attending in-person classes on an A/B schedule with packets for the days they are not in school. Students would have to be 6 feet apart, which impacts buses and classrooms. After measuring the middle/high school classrooms, principal Tyler Church found about 12-13 students could fit in most classrooms with some fitting up to 15. In this model, Fridays could be a day where special education students and students needing intervention could have extra time.

The district is also working on collecting supplies such as masks, hand sanitizer dispensers, hand sanitizer and thermometers. Westrum said the requirement of wearing masks is still a discussion though certain classes could be required, such as FACS where students work in close proximity.

Board members Ryan Damlo and Vince Hinijos are interested in video capabilities for students completing distance learning if the in-person model is chosen since it would help students keep pace with the lessons and possibly help parents if students have questions. Church said they do not know of a platform for this yet though it is an option depending on how many students will be learning from home.

In other actions, the board approved:

  • The paying of the district’s bills totaling $52,255.07. The acceptance of $100 in donations for student activities.

  • The addition of a first-grade teacher with interviews starting in the next two weeks.

  • An incentive program of two months of free lunch for people to fill out forms for free and reduced lunch. Westrum said the program will cost between $20-30,000 and as more people fill out the forms and possibly qualify the less the program will ultimately cost the district.

  • Wadena County Public Health nursing services for $48.20 an hour with a maximum of 240 hours for the 2020-21 school year. The Public Health RN oversees the district’s LPNs.

  • Bids received by food service for milk from Cass Clay and bread from Pan-O-Gold. Both vendors have been used by the school previously.

  • An amendment to the district’s property and liability insurance for the elementary school’s replacement value at $30 million. The competition-level gym and auditorium increase the price in comparison to other elementary schools, according to Westrum.

  • The marketing committee’s ideas for billboard spots on S Hwy 71 by Hunke’s fuel station and east Hwy 29 by Performance Paving in Deer Creek, a sign, Cozy Theatre video and Wolverine Pride downtown banners. The committee, including Damlo and WDC public relations/community education coordinator Dana Cantleberry, hope to have a vinyl sign by the softball dugout towards Hwy 29 and a permanent sign by the middle/high school west entrance that is created each year by the incoming class of seniors.

  • Renewing the Minnesota Rural Education Association membership for two years for $3,820.

  • Renewing the Minnesota School Board Association membership for one year for $5,304.

  • A 10-year plan for long term facilities maintenance expenditures which business manager Brian Jacobson said is flexible, especially as the elementary and middle/high school are new buildings.

  • Renewing Northern Pines Mental Health individual, group and family programming for $10,000 and psychoeducational and skills training for three hours weekly for $3,000.

  • The bus storage lease agreement with the Wadena County Ag Society until 2023 for a rate of $12,500 per year. The rate is an increase from $10,000 which has been the rate since 2010, according to Westrum.

  • Designating Westrum as the person to grant staff members access to MDE sites for secure documents.

  • A notice about three open school board positions for a length of four years. The filing period is July 28 to August 11 with a cost of $2 to file. The general election is Nov. 3.