With 23 COVID-19 cases at Wadena-Deer Creek middle/high school as of Oct. 15, a two-week face covering requirement started on Oct. 18 at the middle/high school.

The requirement follows the district’s COVID mitigation plan, which requests, recommends or requires face coverings for students and staff based on the percent of positive cases in students and staff at that specific school. The 3% level, which the middle/high school has reached, includes a face covering requirement for two weeks. The requirement is removed when cases have dropped below 3%. The elementary school has a 0.9% active case level and face coverings are not required.

The 23 cases are the highest transmission levels the district has seen, according to Superintendent Lee Westrum. The middle/high school had 34 cases total last year and are at about 50 cases total this year.

Wadena-Deer Creek school board members approved a mitigation matrix for the 2021-22 school year on Sept. 21, 2021. The matrix shows when masking changes would come based on the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases at each school. 
Contributed / Wadena-Deer Creek Schools
Wadena-Deer Creek school board members approved a mitigation matrix for the 2021-22 school year on Sept. 21, 2021. The matrix shows when masking changes would come based on the percentage of positive COVID-19 cases at each school. Contributed / Wadena-Deer Creek Schools

Westrum and middle/high school principal Tyler Church said the biggest challenge with the cases is staffing. With five to six teachers out and substitute teachers difficult to find, teachers are subbing for classes hour by hour throughout the day.

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While nurses are busy with managing other sicknesses and COVID, they are communicating with parents, working through test results and contact tracing. The contact tracing process includes notifying families of students who have been exposed and asking them to watch for symptoms; quarantine is not required. Westrum and Church said if contact tracing required quarantining, like last year, there would be about 25 students left in the school.

The elementary saw a decrease of cases from 14 to five last week, which is a trend Westrum hopes to see happen at the middle/high school. As of Oct. 18, the elementary and middle/high schools had four additional cases each. The district updates their COVID-19 dashboard on Fridays on their website.

3 parents share masking concerns

Andy and Shay Walz, parents of two students, discussed sending their children to school with an exemption form about not wearing a mask and how they were harassed and asked to wait in a separate room at the nurse’s office. He emphasized parents and students, not the district, should be making the decision about students wearing masks.

Shay questioned what masks do and talked about her experience wearing a mask for four months at work and having a horrible cough. She said students have less individuality in the process of masking requirements as well as teachers not being able to see if students are confused, students not being able to understand teachers and an increase in anxiety and depression.

Amos Self, a parent of three students, asked the board to consider an accommodation process on masking for students.

Following public comments, the board and staff had no further response.

The board also:

  • Thanked food service staff members at the elementary and middle/high school for their flexibility with changing meals and being short staffed at times over the past 18 months.

  • Thanked Amanda Schmidt and Brittany Ewert for their work on the homecoming shirts for elementary students.

  • Approved the hires of Josephine Malekebu (Elementary Paraprofessional) and Natasha Clayson (Elementary Paraprofessional).

  • Approved paying the district’s bills totaling $527,273.74.

  • Approved accepting donations to the district of $10,012.

  • Approved transferring $121,654.89 from the general to community service fund to cover deficits in the childcare and pre-school programs. The transfer happens annually.

  • Approved the school resource officer contract with the Wadena Police Department for $4,839 through December. M-State and Freshwater also pay 10% each.

  • Approved the e-learning plan for snow days. Teachers and specialists will be available by email, Seesaw, Google Classroom and phone (not a personal or home phone).

  • Discussed the new state reporting system for state funding. Districts are switching to the Ed-Fi system, which also includes further questions on ancestry/ethnic origin and digital equity.

  • Discussed the band and choir trip to Washington, D.C. planned for March. Teachers Mike Ortmann and Lisa Weniger are looking for ideas on how the school would navigate a student having symptoms or testing positive for COVID-19 while on the trip. They hope to see what other districts in the area do to address these challenges.

  • Set a public hearing for Tri-County Health Care’s tax abatement application for Monday, Nov. 22 at 6 p.m. in the Robertson Theatre.

  • Set a special meeting Oct. 26 at noon for the teachers’ contract and hockey arena agreement.