At the special school board meeting, Thursday, Aug. 6, to discuss Wadena-Deer Creek’s reopening plans for the fall, the board approved the option of in-person learning and will approve the back to school plan at the regular school board meeting on Aug. 17.
“Certainly will not be a normal year but I think everybody is committed and excited for having students back in the building and I think it’s going to be a good thing,” said Superintendent Lee Westrum.
The draft version of the plan includes seven main sections. The following are as outlined by Westrum:
Transportation: Buses will have 50% capacity with students loaded from back to front along with students having assigned seats. Family groups can sit together without social distancing. Students will wear masks on the bus and either complete a health screening at home or by a paraprofessional on the bus. Bus drivers will contact guardians about who will be riding the bus this year, including the winter.
Food service: There will be no self serve food items for breakfast or lunch. Students at the middle high school will pick up their breakfast and eat in their classroom, and at lunch time students will sit at tables in the cafeteria and gym at 50% capacity. At the elementary school, students will have breakfast delivered to their classrooms and for lunch will rotate between eating in the cafeteria and their classrooms. Plexiglass may be installed on the cafeteria tables. The district is hoping to use a scanning card system with students wearing lanyards provided by the school instead of students entering their account number.
Health screenings: Staff and students will be screened, including their temperature and answering symptom questions, though this process has not been fully decided. There will be a designated area for students with symptoms of COVID-19. School board members raised concerns about where students would wait to be screened in the winter and how to maintain social distancing.
Classrooms: Students in pre-K to eighth grade will remain in cohorts for the day, including art and music teachers coming to the students classrooms for pre-K to fourth grade levels. Westrum said teachers will be encouraged to take their students outside more than their assigned recess time. Students do not have to wear masks outside if social distancing is possible. For students in ninth to 12th grade, their class schedules are too varied to create cohorts, according to middle high school principal Tyler Church. Some cohorts are possible in ninth and 10th grade. Electives and special education will continue.
Face coverings: Students, staff and visitors are required to wear a face covering. Medical exemptions are also available with a physician note required. Pre-K students do not have to wear a mask and students up to eighth grade have the option of a face shield. The state will provide one cloth mask for every student and staff member, three non-reusable masks for every student and a face shield for every teacher and half the support staff. The district has ordered 300 more face shields and hopes to have two additional cloth masks for each student and staff member.
Cleaning: Throughout the day, high frequency points and bathrooms will be cleaned at least once and after school and classrooms will be cleaned at least twice daily or if a new group of students enters and after school. Classrooms and offices will have disinfectant, hand sanitizer and wipes. Westrum said this will be a “community thing” since there are not enough staff members to keep up with the cleaning.
Westrum did not discuss the procedures for if someone at school tests positive for COVID-19. The district plans to follow Minnesota Department of Health guidance, which can be viewed on their website. He also noted there will be arrows for traffic flow and markings for social distancing on the floor along with posted signs.
The district will be reviewing their plan with Tri-County Health Care and Wadena County Public Health on Aug. 12. The district will also have a hybrid plan since districts could have to transition between the three options of in-person, hybrid and distance learning throughout the 2020-21 school year based on county COVID-19 cases per 10,000 over a two-week period.
Within the staff surveys, 97.7% of the 129 responses said they would return to work if school resumes for in-person learning. Staff members also noted their preferences for the three options, out of 142 responses 79.5% said in-person as their first choice, 9.2% hybrid C with elementary daily and middle high school every other day, 7% hybrid B with both elementary and middle high school every other day and 4.2% distance learning.
At the meeting, bus drivers Kevin Tendall and Bronwynn Touchette asked about seating on the bus, health screenings and how capacity of the buses often double in the winter. Touchette also asked if COVID-19 testing will be available for employees prior to the start of school. Westrum said they do not plan to test all employees and the state is sending saliva kits for teachers.
Substitute teacher Sarah Spicer asked about teachers receiving prep time to which Westrum said paraprofessionals will provide teachers breaks and if teachers do not have their prep time they will be paid for that time. The plans for this are not finalized.
Parents and guardians also responded to their first choice, out of 572 responses 73% said in-person, 10.2% hybrid C, 8.5% hybrid B and 8.3% distance learning. If in-person learning is chosen, 8.8% said they would do distance learning. Westrum also noted the concern of internet speed if the district has to do distance learning with 14% saying they do not have internet speed capable for distance learning. Transportation is another concern with 29.5% saying they could maybe drop off and pick up their children from school and 22.2% saying no. Within the comment section, Westrum said the main topic was face coverings, including concerns about students wearing them and students not wearing them.
Activities director and dean of students Norm Gallant also shared updates on the sports activities for the year after the Minnesota State High School League’s decision on Aug. 4 to move football and volleyball to spring with a prep season in the fall. Gallant said there will be four sport seasons: fall, winter, early spring from mid-March to mid-May and late spring from mid-May to early July. Tennis and cross-country will start on Aug. 17 with a limited number of teams and meets. Gallant hopes to offer opportunities for junior varsity and varsity students to be involved in different sports by creating practice rotations.
In other actions, the board approved:
The resignations of Derek Plautz (Technology Coordinator) and Sherri Kaufman (Elementary Paraprofessional). They accepted jobs with other school districts.
The addition of two staff development days for training staff members. Winter vacation will now include Dec. 21 and 22 for a total of two weeks.