Wadena-Deer Creek considers possible distance learning

Districts have prioritized in-person learning throughout this school year, and hope to continue this learning model as long as possible. Students and staff being sick, including with COVID-19 and the flu, have impacted staffing, keeping up with assignments and transporting students to school and activities. 

Blue and yellow logo of a wolverine.
Contributed / Wadena-Deer Creek Public Schools

WADENA — As coronavirus cases rise again , staff members are constantly working to cover bus drivers, teachers and paraprofessionals substitutes at Wadena-Deer Creek Schools. The high cases also return the possibility of distance learning as soon as next week.

Districts have prioritized in-person learning throughout this school year, and hope to continue this learning model as long as possible. Students and staff being sick, including with COVID-19 and the flu, have impacted staffing, keeping up with assignments and transporting students to school and activities.

If multiple bus drivers are out again distance learning might be the best option. The transportation department needs time to get better and learning bus routes requires time and training, as Superintendent Lee Westrum said. The routes have been covered with the help of Friendly Rider and school staff members. Districts have struggled to hire bus drivers and paraprofessional substitutes the entire year.

“I’m an eternal optimist, so at this point I’m thinking maybe we can kind of ride through this but I just don’t know. So I want to be prepared if we need to make a switch at some point,” Westrum shared with school board members on Wednesday, Jan. 18. Menahga School District is planning distance learning for their high school students next week.

According to a resolution passed by the WDC board, Westrum can transition schools to distance learning for up to seven days before the next board meeting on Feb. 22. If it would be a longer period of time the school board would have a special meeting. Board members noted their confidence in Westrum and his knowledge of the situation to help him make the best decision. They also agreed an e-learning day prior to switching to distance learning could be helpful.


More families driving students to school is another option, though not all families are able to transport their students. The number of students riding buses increases every winter along with the busy activity season.

Most of the coronavirus cases are at the middle/high school level, with 21 student and staff cases for the week of Jan. 14, and 20 cases as of Jan. 18. The elementary school had nine cases the previous week and eight cases as of Jan. 18. Both place the schools at the moderate level with face coverings recommended. The middle/high school will move to required face coverings for a two-week period starting the week of Jan. 24. The levels follow the district’s scaled masking plan .

COVID-19 Mitigation Matrix WDC.jpg
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

If the school transitioned to distance learning, meals would be available for pick-up, and varsity, junior varsity and “C” extracurricular activities would continue. Junior high and elementary activities would pause. Internet hotspots are available for students to check out in the media center and internet access is available at the Wadena City Library.

With elevated influenza activity across the United States, WDC reported one class outbreak last week. The Health Department requires reporting when 5% of the school’s enrollment is absent or sent home with influenza-like illness. The flu is at the minimal level in the state with three new school outbreaks for the week of Jan. 8.

The district also updated their quarantine guidance to follow the new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. The isolation and quarantine time for people who have tested positive for COVID-19 or been exposed to COVID-19 and are no longer symptomatic is five days. Masking is strongly encouraged for the following five days.

The masking guidelines would move from recommended to requested and then required at the elementary or middle/high school depending 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 Minnesota State High School League set guidelines at the beginning of the school year, which remain the same. Students can return to practice after five days but cannot compete until after 10 days are completed. Most WDC teams and game schedules have been affected by sickness. Activities director Norm Gallant does not expect the MSHSL to change their guidance.

State tournaments will also likely require proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test for spectators. If a student would like to watch more games after they finish competing, they will also need proof of vaccination or a negative test.

COVID-19 in the community

The district’s increasing cases follow the community’s rate, which has increased from 40 cases per 10,000 to 110 cases per 10,000 throughout January. Both school buildings had one case each at the beginning of January. Tri-County Health Care president and CEO Joel Beiswenger said they’ve seen pediatric cases “skyrocket” with an increase of about three times the amount of cases from December.


The omicron variant spreads easily and is highly contagious with less “intensity” than the delta variant. There are also more breakthrough cases in the vaccinated population. The demand on the healthcare system is a “grave concern,” as Beiswenger said.

He added there is a “lot of activity” at the hospital with a range of patients and increased cases in staff members. COVID hospitalizations had a small break from the December peak but are again near those peak levels .

“We’ve been ebbing and flowing a little bit through omicron here the last three weeks. We have been as high as up to 20 patients with as many as a third of them being COVID to about our best news was yesterday morning we only had about 11 with three COVID. Today, it was back up into the mid-teens,” Beiswenger said on Jan. 18. “Our typical pre-COVID census was eight (patients).”

Over the next month to six weeks, Beiswenger asked the school board to consider increased mitigation measures with masking, social distancing and limiting large gatherings. He encouraged vaccination as the best long-term mitigation tool. Area hospitals, pharmacies and public health clinics offer the COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots.

Hospital visitors are also provided with a medical-grade mask, which are required in Tri-County facilities . The CDC recommends “that you wear the most protective mask you can that fits well and that you will wear consistently.” If you enter a TCHC facility wearing a cloth mask, you will be asked to remove it and put on a medical-grade mask. Beiswenger said N95 masks are available as supply chain shortages have eased. You can view a list of approved surgical masks on the FDA website.

Rebecca Mitchell started as a Digital Content Producer for the Post Bulletin in August 2022. She specializes in feature reporting as well as enhancing online articles. Readers can reach Rebecca at 507-285-7681 or
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