The five day school routine is returning for Wadena-Deer Creek students.
All grade levels will begin early release Fridays on Feb. 26. Students have had distance learning Fridays since December.
School board members favored bringing students back as soon as possible after hearing from parents, staff and the teachers’ union about their preferred choice. Of the 373 parent responses, 54% chose early out, 30% every other Friday and 16% late start. The every other Friday option would have included a full day of in-person learning one Friday and distance learning the next. Of the 85 staff responses, 61% chose early out, 37% every other Friday and 2% late start.
Within each of the options, families' need for child care remained important. The school will continue to have child care available for specific workers; email Jennifer Ness at firstname.lastname@example.org with questions. School board members and administration are thankful for parents adapting to the continuous changes throughout the school year.
Students will still have breakfast and lunch on early release Fridays. The school day will end at 12:30 p.m. The state is recommending students and families in hybrid or in-person models be tested for COVID-19 every two weeks.
Why aren’t students going back full in-person?
The district must provide two and a half hours of prep time for teachers every week. The prep time is required as students are either in-person or opting for distance learning. The elementary school has 15 distance learners and the middle/high school has 48. Not all teachers have distance learners while other teachers such as art and music work with all the distance learners.
“I really have to thank our staff because I have not had one staff member who has come to me and said, ‘I refuse to go to work. I’m not coming in,’” said Superintendent Lee Westrum. “Everybody has just said, ‘Hey, we’re going to do whatever we have to. We know our kids need to be in school and we’re going to do what it takes to get the job done.’”
About 125 WDC staff members have received the COVID-19 vaccine following a vaccine clinic with Wadena County Public Health and the state pilot sites.
“I want our staff vaccinated to the highest degree possible but I can’t give advice to somebody on their own health care,” Westrum said. He recommends staff members talk to their doctor with questions.
The vaccine is optional. As more people receive both vaccine doses, the country can work towards herd immunity, where enough people have immunity to the illness and help protect people from the illness. Approximately 80% of the population needs to be vaccinated for herd immunity, as Tri-County Health Care Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ben Hess said on Jan. 12.
Vaccines for children are in trial and not expected soon. The trial updates include:
Moderna: People between 12-18 years old. This year they will also start a trial for 6 months-11 years old.
Pfizer: People between 12-15 years old. They will next have a trial of 5-11 year olds.
AstraZeneca: People between 12-18 years old.
School nurse position
The district is hoping to increase pay and update the nursing positions available at the schools. The options include having one registered nurse and one licensed practical nurse or two LPNs and a Public Health RN.
With the needed contact tracing and organizing staff vaccinations, board member Barb Tumberg and Westrum said the district is fortunate for the team effort attitude. Public Health also helps with guidance on contact tracing.
The district typically has two LPNs and a Public Health RN. Both the elementary and middle/high school have health aides currently. The middle/high school is hiring for a school nurse and the elementary school hired a new nurse in January. The district is required to have an RN with public health training.
Westrum said of the interested candidates, at least one would be willing to get the public health degree. While working on the certification, the school could continue the Public Health contract.
The Public Health RN is for up to 240 hours a year. This costs approximately $11,000.
The nurses are on a pay scale of about $16.50-20.50 an hour, which isn’t enough especially with the high competition in the area, as Westrum said. The pay scale has not been adjusted under the collective bargaining agreement. If the school adds an RN, the pay would increase to $28.50 an hour plus possible additions for experience. The LPN could follow the pay scale similar to speech and language pathology assistants for about $24-28 an hour.
Board members agreed change is needed and approved advertising for an RN position. School board member Missy Seelhammer noted the need to increase pay for people to remain in the position.
In other action
The board also approved:
Hiring Paraprofessional Tawni Kyllonen.
The resignations of Zach Martin (Junior High Football) and Cindi Koll (FCCLA advisor).
Paying the district’s bills totaling $301,071.24.
The acceptance of $80 in donations.
A budget reduction resolution routinely adopted as a warning that the board might need to make reductions to the budget. Westrum does not expect substantial cuts.
A resolution allowing funds transfers between the student activities and general accounts by specific employees.