Wadena-Deer Creek is set to start the school year without most pandemic guidelines. The district’s plan is similar to neighboring districts.

During the Aug. 16 school board meeting, Superintendent Lee Westrum reviewed several of the notable differences expected for the school year: returning to five days of in-person learning, no requirement for face coverings in the buildings, little social distancing and meals back to the regular. He stressed the plans can change depending on state and federal mandates as well as decisions made by the school board depending on local cases. Face coverings are required on school buses due to a federal mandate.

One of the remaining questions is quarantine time. Quarantining is planned for students and staff who test positive for COVID-19, individuals who are symptomatic and immediate family members of individuals who test positive. The district followed a decision tree from the Minnesota Department of Health last year and is awaiting guidance about the length of time. The district requires self-health screenings and asks that individuals stay home when not feeling well.

The COVID-19 vaccine is not required for students, staff, visitors or volunteers.

For the distance learning option for families, the district is checking on interest at the elementary level since the online learning option Edmentum is no longer available. While the teachers for the online platform are licensed, they do not meet the required criteria of teaching with a school district, charter school or Minnesota approved online provider.

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The district may offer distance learning for kindergarten to sixth grade students with teachers from possibly another school district. Students would remain part of the WDC district through the online learning option. There would be no distance learning option for seventh to 12th grade students.

A strong representation of parents, about 25-30, also attended the meeting to share remarks on the school opening plan. Seven parents addressed the board on the topic of masks. Several said masks are ineffective and unsafe for children.

Parent of three students and Tri-County Health Care family medicine provider Dr. Laura DuChene asked the board to consider universal masking. She said the area does not have the beds for kids becoming sick at the high rate seen in areas like Dallas County, Texas.

“I give my kids to you from 8-3 every day. When I give them to you I understand that it is your job to protect them. I can’t protect them at those times,” DuChene said. “I can send my kids to school in masks but they’re still going to be exposed if other kids don’t mask.” She said masks help prevent respiratory droplets going from people who are sick to other people.

Community members showed their support for all comments, except DuChene's, with emphatic claps. Another parent Tanya Collins shared younger students do not have the discipline to keep germs off their hands and are always touching and readjusting their masks that they are then breathing. She said students should not be asked to wear masks like nurses in a hospital setting.

Parents said people should be able to wear masks if they choose but not be mandated to because that takes away people’s choice, which one parent said is not freedom. Parent of one student and dairy farmer Kevin Goeden said fresh air and good ventilation are key for respiratory health, and masks are the opposite of this. He wanted to see proof of the masks working.

Parent of three students Alicia Wynn shared about the impact of masking on students in special education, including needing to see faces for emotional-behavioral regulation lessons.

Parents also stressed the importance of in-person interactions for the emotional and mental health of students. Several shared about their children crying about not seeing friends and wearing masks last year. Parent of two students Josh Seelhammer said in the conversations he’s had in the community the concerns are emotional not health-related.

“We’re not here for the parents, we’re here for the kids,” Seelhammer said.

The board changed the wording on face coverings to match the state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations, which states “Face coverings are strongly encouraged but will not be required during the school day and during after school activities, including sports.” The opening plan for fall 2021 was approved on a 5-1 vote with Kent Schmidt voting against.

The full school opening plan is available on the school website. Read more about area school district’s opening plans in next week’s edition.