With COVID-19 cases increasing in Wadena County and high absence rates at the schools, Wadena-Deer Creek school board members approved a scaled plan to add masking as needed depending on transmission levels. Masking is not being added at this time.

The masking guidelines would move from recommended to requested and then required at the elementary or middle/high school based on the cases at that school. The levels are percentages based on the number of positive COVID-19 cases out of the total number of students and staff at the elementary (570) and middle/high school (720).

The first change of recommending face coverings would come with 1% of students and staff having a positive COVID-19 case. At the 3-4.9% level, face coverings would be required for a two week period and then be adjusted based on the transmission percentage. The 3% level would be about 17 cases at the elementary and 21 cases at the middle/high school. A class at the preschool to sixth grade levels would have distance learning for 10 days if there are three positive cases in one week.

If the transmission level is over 5%, the district will work on next steps with Wadena County Public Health, Tri-County Health Care and/or the Minnesota Department of Health. The 5% rate matches the school's requirement for influenza reporting to the Minnesota Department of Health.

As of Sept. 17, the elementary school had three positive COVID-19 cases and the middle/high school had seven. These numbers are under 1%. On Sept. 20, there were 100 students absent with nurses estimating about 70 students having symptoms, according to Superintendent Lee Westrum. While most students do not have positive COVID-19 tests, families have been mindful of keeping students home when they’re not feeling well or until receiving a negative test.

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“I’m concerned right now,” Westrum said. “And so is everybody, all the school people are concerned, there’s no question about it because we’ve been through a lot and we’re worried.”

WDC will review COVID-19 case data every Friday to determine the positivity rate. Area districts are reviewing similar plans, including Verndale, New York Mills and Perham. The scaled plan originated from the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

The district also weekly partners with Wadena County Public Health and Tri-County Health Care for COVID-19 updates. Wadena County’s case rate per 10,000 people was 35.9 for Aug. 22 to Sept. 4, according to information from Public Health. The case rate for Aug. 23 to Sept. 5, 2020 was 8.79.

Tri-County Health Care (Astera Health) president and CEO Joel Beiswenger also spoke about the impact on the healthcare system, which he described as a “tenuous” situation. He said transferring patients has been challenging daily as hospitalizations increase.

School board member and Tri-County Foundation executive director Ryan Damlo also noted tough test availability which means sending out tests for a few day return instead of rapid tests. The school hopes to get testing supplies.

As of Sept. 13, the 14-day test positivity rate at Tri-County was 25% and the five day positivity rate was 7.6%. Beiswenger encouraged mitigation efforts to help flatten the curve.

Board members agreed the scaled plan was proactive and helpful for families to know what could change if cases remain high. School board member Kent Schmidt was not present at the meeting.

The school board also:

  • Thanked the elementary and middle/high school custodians for their excellent work in caring for students and staff and keeping the schools clean all with a friendly smile.

  • Approved the hires of Carrie Goeden (Food Service), Jeff Nicoll (Bus Driver), Adam Guderian (Bus Driver/Sub), Michelle Curtis (Van/Bus Driver), Jeff Fortney (Van Driver/Sub), Renae Kircher (Elementary Paraprofessional), Mikalia Lynch (Elementary Paraprofessional), Maria Calix (Elementary Paraprofessional), Connie Collins (Elementary Paraprofessional), Dave Seaton (Elementary Paraprofessional), Julie Taggart (Elementary Paraprofessional), Amy Korfe (Elementary Paraprofessional) and Ben Henle (Assistant Wrestling Coach).

  • Approved the retirements and resignations of Amy Zimmerman and Kim Heisler.

  • Approved the district’s bills totaling $574,904.19.

  • Approved donations to the district totaling $5,889.

  • Discussed Tri-County’s tax abatement application for the new healthcare center, which would not impact taxing until 2023 or 2024. While Tri-County is a not-for-profit organization, the clinic portion is taxable. The organization did apply for TIF financing two years ago and was not able to continue in the process due to removing existing structures on the site. Beiswenger emphasized the positive economic development, including jobs, for the area as well as the close-to-home location of the hospital. The application is for 15 years. At the school taxes level, Westrum said the abatement would result in a “no net tax impact on our citizens” since the school would have an abatement levy and property values will have gone up. The abatement levy would be similar to the tornado lots that were sold in conjunction with the city and county. The city of Wadena and Otter Tail County will also make decisions on the abatement. The school board will have a public hearing in October or November.

  • Approved the 2022 preliminary levy for the maximum amount, which would be a 1.44% increase. The final levy will be set during the December board meeting. The truth in taxation meeting includes a presentation and time for public comments and questions on Dec. 20 at 6 p.m.
  • Discussed an e-learning plan for snow days, which includes teachers having available office hours and assignments online. The plan will be finalized for the October meeting.

  • The homecoming parade is on Oct. 1 at 2 p.m. You can catch the parade on main street. Area businesses and organizations are also invited to participate by filling out an entry form, which is available on the school’s Facebook page. The form is due Sept. 24.