In a special meeting on Aug. 31, the Wadena-Deer Creek school board heard updates about the schools reopening on Sept. 8.

Since school districts could have to transition between learning models, the school board approved an agreement with the teachers union for the school district to modify teachers’ schedules for this year, according to Superintendent Lee Westrum. Teachers will be paid for lengthened days or additional work time as well as if their lunch time is not duty free. Every member of the teachers union will also receive $500 for the increased work of distance learning with the changes paid for by coronavirus relief funding as much as possible, according to Westrum.

Westrum also noted the school district’s close watch of the positives cases and case rates in Wadena County including a recent increase in the cumulative positive case counts after the 14-day case rates have been “very low.” In the most recent case rate data, for the weeks of Aug. 2 to 15, Wadena County’s case rate is 2.93. The rate is calculated by the total number of cases in Wadena County over the last 14 days divided by the county population over 10,000. The positive cases in Wadena County increased to 44 on Aug. 24 from 27 on Aug. 11, and as of Aug. 31 there are 49 cases, according to the Minnesota Department of Health.

With the increase in cases, Westrum said Wadena County’s case rate will likely be over 10 for the next two weeks, which is when the state recommends a transition to the split hybrid and in-person learning option. After meeting with MDH and Wadena County Public Health, W-DC will open for in-person learning as scheduled on Sept. 8. If the cases continue to increase, W-DC could transition to 7-12th grade students doing hybrid learning and kindergarten-6th grade students continuing in-person learning. The school district will look at trends rather than one week’s rate at a time before transitioning models.

The learning option chosen by school districts can transition based on COVID-19 cases by county as measured per 10,000 over a period of two weeks.
The learning option chosen by school districts can transition based on COVID-19 cases by county as measured per 10,000 over a period of two weeks.

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The school district looks primarily at Wadena County’s case rates though about half of the district is located geographically in Otter Tail County with about 30-35% of students in Otter Tail County, according to Westrum. Otter Tail County has also seen an increase in positive case rates with 294 as of Aug. 31 after 204 on Aug. 13. From information available, the increase is likely not in the Deer Creek and Bluffton areas, as Westrum said. Another factor is making sure there are enough staff members to continue the current learning model.

“You want to see as much data as you possibly can before you make a big decision like that,” Westrum said about transitioning between learning options.

The case rates can be viewed at www.health.state.mn.us/diseases/coronavirus/stats/wschool.pdf.

In other actions, the board approved:

  • Paraprofessional hires: Alana Boettner, Bridgette Ohrmundt, Katie Umland, Dominique Brown, Stephanie Koljonen, Sherry Wessels, Alana Boettner, Amber Horstmann and Amy Zimmermann.

  • Other hires: Dale Salge (Custodian), Anthony Kern (Junior High Football Coach), Sidney Schissel (Junior High Volleyball Coach) and Junelle Jackson (Long Term Substitute Teacher).

  • School board member Ryan Damlo to fill the clerk role after school board member and clerk Vince Hinojos became the school district’s technology coordinator. Barb Tumberg was appointed to replace Hinojos for the remainder of his term through December. She will begin in October. Tumberg is also running in the school board election that will take place during the general election on Nov. 3.

  • A realtor extension agreement with Gores Company for the Deer Creek school for another six months. Westrum said a few people have viewed the building but nothing further.