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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Board hears COVID response plans for new school year

Superintendent emphasizes keeping students in school

David Colburn
Posted 7/28/21

REGIONAL- While state officials are still working on what guidance they will provide to school administrators and staff this year, it appears, at least for now, that won’t include any mandates …

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Board hears COVID response plans for new school year

Superintendent emphasizes keeping students in school


REGIONAL- While state officials are still working on what guidance they will provide to school administrators and staff this year, it appears, at least for now, that won’t include any mandates as schools begin to reopen.
But with the start of classes just a little over a month away, ISD 2142’s administrative team has already fleshed out the basic elements of what they will implement to “keep all students and staff safe and keep students in school,” Superintendent Reggie Engebritson told school board members on Tuesday.
“I know that parents are probably wondering and so I wanted to bring this to you tonight to kind of get a head start on what we’re thinking and if the board is supportive,” Engebritson said.
At the top of the list was masking, which was required of all students and staff last year.
“At this time, masks would be optional, but strongly recommended, and this could change if the situation warrants,” Engebritson said.
She noted that the Centers for Disease Control had issued a recommendation for indoor masking in areas where the delta variant is surging, “but that’s not happening here,” she said.
And as evidence that the COVID situation is changing rapidly with the surge in cases nationally due to the delta variant, board member Bob Larson mentioned additional new CDC guidance.
“The CDC came out with new regulations today that everybody in the school be masked,” Larson said. “It’s a recommendation, not a requirement.”
Engebritson said that administrators would be looking at using the same approach they did last year in looking at data and situations relevant to each school’s attendance area to inform what actions might be necessary.
“We may see a surge, and if we’re not wearing masks then we may have to determine to go back to everybody wearing masks,” she said.
School buses are classified as public transportation and as such still fall under the federal mandate of all passengers being required to wear masks while being transported, Engebritson said.
Contract tracing also is going by the wayside for the start of the new school year. Engebritson explained that less than one percent of those determined to be a close contact to a person with a positive COVID test contracted the virus last year.
“Given those low numbers, at this time it would not be recommended to send any close contacts home and instead keep those kids in school,” she said. “If someone has symptoms we would still have to follow the decision tree from the Minnesota Department of Health. You would go home until you receive an alternative diagnosis. If you test positive, the decision tree says you would be home for 10 days from the date the symptoms started, and then the symptoms would have to improve and you’d have to have no fever for 24 hours.”
Board chair Dan Manick expressed concern about the broad scope of symptoms related to COVID and the possibility that children or staff may be sent home when they don’t have COVID-19.
“I just hope we’re not to that point where a kid with a runny nose is going to be told to go home,” he said.
“I think it’s going to be difficult if those are still symptoms of COVID,” Engebritson responded. “How do you find that balance? People are going to be upset because we didn’t send somebody home with some of the symptoms and then they are positive. That’s where the dance is going to be.”
Parents will be notified when cases are identified that are potentially linked to their children, Engebritson said, without disclosing identifying information. For example, parents of a child enrolled in an elementary school classroom would be notified by letter if another child in the class tested positive.
“It’s trying to strike the balance between not alarming everybody but giving them the information they need to make decisions,” she said.
Since the school is not offering distance learning this year, details remain to be worked out for systems to keep sick students on extended absences due to COVID connected with their teachers and school work, Engebritson said. Also still to be determined is what will happen with a sibling of a child who is sent home, whether they will be sent home because of their sibling’s symptoms or if they would remain in school until a positive test occurs.
Board member Chet Larson voiced his support for the plan.
“I think you’re going to do just fine,” he said. “Going down the road, I think you can do the job.”
Engebritson also noted that a federal decision on opening up vaccinations to children between five and 11 years old won’t likely be coming until “later in the fall.”
“Once that comes out, we’d probably do clinics (at schools) again,” she said.
Open enrollment for district schools will continue up to the first day of classes, but there are encouraging signs that the elimination of COVID restrictions and return to regular in-person learning is bringing some families back into the district’s fold.
“Right now, we’re seeing some of our families that did homeschooling are coming back,” Engebritson said.

Other business
In other business, the board:
• Without comment, approved three two-year contracts with bargaining groups representing building principals, health services staff, and food service staff.
• Approved coaching assignments for fall sports, including Joel Anderson as North Woods head football coach, assisted by Mark Fabish, Nathan Anderson, and Dan Reing, North Woods head volleyball coach Kandi Olson, assisted by Kaileen Redmond, Julie Holien and Becky Lappi (half stipend), and Dan Squires as assistant cross country coach.
• Hired Sara Twedten as a language arts teacher and Nathan Anderson as a science teacher, both at North Woods.
• Hired Karl Jonas and Thomas Hed as full-time custodians at North Woods.
Accepted the retirement of North Woods bus driver Joel Knutson.


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