Archive for Schools

Two Delano students test positive for COVID-19

DELANO, MN – Two Delano students have tested positive for COVID-19. Delano Public Schools Communication Coordinator Paul Downer sent the following message to district parents regarding the exposure:

Today we received notification that two Delano students have tested positive for COVID-19. One case involved an intermediate school student, and the other case involved a high school student. In cooperation with the Minnesota Department of Health, intermediate students and staff members who were identified as close contacts have been notified and will be quarantined for two weeks in order to limit any potential spread. The high school case did not involve significant exposure to others, and no quarantine of additional students or staff is needed.

At this point there is no evidence of COVID-19 transmission in our school settings. We would like to thank you all for your vigilance in reporting symptoms that have arisen at home and for making arrangements to keep your students home when they are not feeling well. When students are kept home, or when quarantines become necessary, they can continue their education through distance learning as long as they are feeling well enough to do so.

Depending on circumstances, MDH is now recommending the quarantine of small groups or whole classrooms at a time in order to reduce the risk of transmission within school, and to maintain a stable learning model for the majority of students. Future notification of positive cases and quarantines will be made directly to impacted families only, rather than to all district families. This will prevent an overabundance of emails from the district, and will help protect the privacy of those affected. Summary information on the district’s situation will be included in our future Thursday emails that provide updates to the Wright County case numbers.

As always, the safety of our students and staff members is our top priority. We will continue to do our utmost to maintain a clean and safe learning environment and, along with our public health advisors, take prompt action when needed to manage the virus.

Scenarios to prepare for
In addition to the possible quarantine of small groups or classrooms in the future, we would like to remind you of some other scenarios that could lead to a learning model change so you can make specific preparations. Now that school has begun, there are several possibilities that could cause a school or the district overall to shift to a more restrictive learning model.

First would be an increase in general community spread, as tracked through county numbers and other local data that we are sharing with you on a weekly basis. A second possibility would be a cluster outbreak in the community or in the school setting – meaning a large number of cases related to a specific location or event.

In addition, there is another scenario that the school district is monitoring very carefully. This possibility is that a percentage of our staff would be required to quarantine for 14 days based on exposure, whether in school or in the community. Currently, substitutes for our teachers and paraprofessionals who work directly with our students are in short supply. If a school is unable to maintain appropriate staffing on a temporary basis through substitutes, it may have to temporarily shift its learning model. The district has and will continue to work on solutions to minimize this possibility. Two permanent substitute teachers have been hired to cover the high school, and two additional permanent substitute teachers are available to cover both the elementary and intermediate schools. These substitute teachers are in our schools every school day for the entire school year as the first coverage for staff who are required to be at home.

As a reminder, any decision to change the learning model school-wide would be facilitated through a consultation process with a regional COVID team that includes representatives from the Minnesota Department of Health, the Minnesota Department of Education, and other public health officials.

Please plan and prepare for these potential interruptions to the school year like you would have for weather emergencies in years past. We are hoping disruptions are minimal, but must be prepared to continue the education of our students in whatever form is necessary during this unusual time.

 

Clear masks make lip reading possible for Delano first-grader

DELANO, MN – Delano first-grader Easton Erdmann has been deaf in one ear since he was born.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the challenges he encounters due to his hearing loss.

“I never really realized how much he relied on reading people’s lips until we did things on the computer and he couldn’t understand his teachers that well,” his mother, Ashlie Erdmann said regarding distance learning.

A return to the classroom would bring with it another potential impediment to learning: masks.

“It really changed things when he had to put a mask on, especially when working with other kids or teachers,” Ashlie Erdmann said. “ … Things get a little more jumbled, so he relies on looking at people.”

Anticipating the upcoming challenge, teacher Marissa Ekness and deaf and hard of hearing teacher Alicia Fergen brainstormed ways to help Easton.

“She was wearing a clear mask,” Ekness said. “She said, ‘These are pretty easy to make.’”

So the two made a poster asking if families would be willing to provide clear masks for their children.

Ekness thought maybe two or three students would have clear masks.

She soon learned that all the students would have clear masks, thanks to a students’ grandmother.

That grandmother is Susan Engelmann, of Plato.

Since she was a 10- or 11-year-old 4-H’er, she has been sewing everything from T-shirts and suits to bedspreads and curtains.

When the pandemic hit, her focus shifted to masks.

She estimates she has sewn 450 to 500 masks, plus surgical hats for the surgical unit at Glencoe Regional Health.

“I’ve never charged for one mask,” Engelmann said. “If I can help keep people healthy and safe, it makes me feel good in my heart.”

That was certainly the case with this particular undertaking.

“For this little boy, it must really help him,” Engelmann said. “He’s a lip reader. If you can’t hear and you can’t see anyone’s lips, it has to be horrible. I’m just happy it helps him.”

Engelmann was in good position to help.

“I was at a point where I wasn’t committed to a big amount for anyone else,” she said. “I said I would take that on. It worked out well because I had a whole stash of fun kids prints. I wanted them to be fun for them, not boring. That worked out great.”

Ekness had provided pieces of vinyl, but Engelmann decided it would be better to use heavier vinyl that wouldn’t be so reflective. She happened to have a large piece of it hanging in her closet, as well as the needed supplies to make the masks adjustable.

“It’s just worked out that I’ve had everything I’ve needed,” Engelmann said. “ … I believe God just works in his ways. He just always has a hand in everything. I had everything here. I didn’t have to buy one thing.”

She still had to figure out the best way to construct the masks.

“I tried one pattern that had a seam in the middle. I didn’t like that. It took me too long,” Engelmann said. “I wanted it to fit across the kids’ mouths so it wasn’t sagging down. I found the perfect pattern and it worked really well.”

Sewing clear masks takes about 10 minutes longer than making the traditional masks, Engelmann estimated. In total, it took her four days to make 21 kids’ masks and two for Ekness.

Her granddaughter was excited to try out the first one.

“She wore it right away the next day to school,” Engelmann said. “I don’t know if she wanted to make sure this little boy could see her mouth or if she just wanted to show it off.”

Ashlie Erdmann said Easton did the same thing the first day he got his mask.

“He was so excited,” she said.

Ekness said most of the students just wear the masks as needed.

“During phonics time, a lot of my kids will put their clear masks on,” she said. “ … They know if they’re working with him, they should put it on.”

Ekness herself can wear a face shield if she stays at least 6 feet away from the students.

“I normally wear it during phonics time because that’s when everyone needs to read my lips,” she said. “All the teachers got a clear mask to start off the year, but none of the kids had a clear mask.”

She added that a face shield is not an option for students unless they have a note from a doctor.

That makes having clear face masks more important.

Engelmann is already working on another set so the students can take them home to wash them more frequently.

“It’s going to be awesome,” Ekness said. “She’s awesome. She kept telling me it was a small act of kindness. I said, ‘This is not a small act. This is a huge act.’”

The Erdmanns were also moved by Engelmann’s kindness.

“It brought tears to my eyes that someone would do this for Easton,” Ashlie Erdmann said.

She believes the clear masks have helped him in more ways than one.

“He doesn’t make friends well,” she said. “That someone would do this for him when he’s always struggled, it’s amazing. … He can feel like a sense of normalcy because everyone else has it, too. He’s not the only one. He’s not different. For the other kiddos to participate and wear theirs, I feel like it gives him a sense of belonging.”

The Erdmanns made sure to express their appreciation.

“I got the most wonderful card from the mother,” Engelmann said. “It made me cry. It said no one had ever done anything so nice for them. … It kind of tore my heart out a little bit.”

The way everything has come together since that first orientation day when the request was first made has had a profound impact on the Erdmanns.

“I have enjoyed being a part of this whole experience,” Ashlie Erdmann said. “It’s really humbling.”

Proactive parents have helped Delano schools stay open

DELANO, MN – Superintendent Matt Schoen notified the Delano School Board that there have been positive cases of COVID-19 amongst the student body, but none that have required a shift in learning models.

“We have had cases where a student has tested positive, but the family has been so proactive,” Schoen said during Monday’s work session. “They contacted the school before being notified of the positive case and kept them home. Parents are taking it seriously. There are symptoms, and they know the list of symptoms. If they have them, they’re holding their kids back. So far, we’ve been on a good trajectory of navigating cases.”

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School face covering policy approved

DELANO, MN – After approving a first read of a face covering policy recommended by the Minnesota School Board Association (MSBA) a week earlier, the Delano School Board Monday approved a new face covering policy on a 6-1 vote, with school board member Rachel Depa opposed.

“There was a general level of dissatisfaction with the MSBA policy,” attorney Michael “Mick” Waldspurger said.

One difference is that the new policy includes procedures, which is not always the case.

“You will have people come forward, parents or employees, saying, ‘I shouldn’t have to wear this,’” Waldspurger said. “We want to make sure we have guidance for how administrators should respond to that.”

He added later, “With a lot of these procedures, you want to be careful. I thought they were necessary given the circumstances. I don’t want to put a lot of procedures in because you want administrators to be able to adjust on the fly.”

Face coverings are required whenever in a building owned or leased by the district, in accordance with Gov. Tim Walz’s executive order.

Face coverings should not be used for children under the age of 2, incapacitated individuals, or those with trouble breathing. Children who are 5 or younger in childcare are also exempt.

Furthermore, a person is not required to wear a face covering if the person has a medical condition, mental health condition, or disability that makes it unreasonable for the person to wear a face covering.

There are many times when a face covering may be temporarily removed, including when eating, drinking, participating in physical activities or activities during which the covering may get wet, playing instruments, performing or presenting, receiving a service, working alone, or when asked to remove the covering for identification purposes.

Face shields are permitted as an alternative when a student is unable to tolerate a face covering due to a developmental, behavioral, or medical condition; if a student is in kindergarten through eighth grade and a teacher or administrator determines that wearing a face covering would be problematic; or if a face covering would interfere with religious attire.

Employees may wear a face shield when a covering would impede the educational process; when providing direct student support services that a covering would interfere with; if a disability or medical condition prevents the wearing of a covering; if a covering would interfere with religious attire; or if a covering would create a job hazard for the employee or others.

Visitors may only wear face shields as alternatives due to a medical or mental health condition, a disability, or interference with religious attire.

For students to be exempt from wearing a face covering for a medical or mental health condition or disability, documentation from a medical authority will be required, unless the district already has reliable information regarding such condition or disability.

Depa said that the policy defined “problematic” more stringently than the executive order.

“The policy I wrote doesn’t say a medical professional has to determine it’s problematic,” Waldspurger said. “Problematic is completely separate from a medical condition. We’ve tried to say, ‘Who gets to define that?’ It has to be someone in the school. If not, every parent will say, ‘It’s problematic.’”

Depa contended that the MSBA policy had stated that parents could determine if wearing a face covering was problematic.

“You can’t let parents and students determine that, otherwise the exceptions will swallow the rule,” Waldspurger said. “It has to be a school official . . . It would not be well-envisioned to suggest parents can determine what’s problematic.”

Depa asked if a student would have to explain trauma that would make wearing a mask problematic.

“Trauma would be a medical or mental health condition,” Waldspurger said.

Anxiety would also have to be verified by a medical professional in order to create an exemption, he added later.

Depa said face coverings can be especially problematic for young children.

“For little kids, seeing how my teacher reacts and being able to see how parents express is important,” Depa said. “When I take a child who is not in a financial situation to see a doctor and say my kid needs a face shield so she can speak, be heard, and express how she feels – she has anxiety – the fear parents have expressed is that the answer will be no. How will the child interact with their class No. 1? How are they able to learn when they’re scared? These are things I’m concerned about.”

Waldspurger said, “It has far exceeded everyone’s expectations how little kids are tolerating masks.”

When Depa said that St. Michael-Albertville is allowing individuals to use face shields as face coverings, Waldspurger said, “That’s not allowed under the executive order.”

Board member Corey Black said he was concerned that the bulk of the conversation revolved around reasons for people to not wear masks.

“I thought we were going to talk about helping the guys in the back,” Black said, referencing the building administrators. “ . . . What are we doing to give enough authority to say, ‘No, you have to wear this thing or we’re going to have a COVID outbreak here?’”

Board member Amy Johnson emphasized that face covering policy should be handled by nurses, administrators, or the superintendent, not teachers.

Waldspurger noted that the policy does not require teachers to enforce the policy, but allows them to determine if wearing a face covering is problematic on a case-by-case basis.

When voting on the policy, Depa said, “I understand the need for masks. I just don’t think this policy addresses parent concerns.”

The board also voted unanimously to waive the requirement for a second read so the policy could go into effect immediately.

For more coverage  of the meeting, see the Aug. 28 edition of the Delano Herald Journal.

Delano School Board approves base learning model

DELANO, MN – Delano preschool through sixth-grade students will return to the classroom full-time in the fall, while secondary students will be in the classroom two days each week, following official action by the school board Monday.

There was some question as to whether the district would be able to base its decision solely on Wright County’s COVID-19 case numbers or if Hennepin County numbers would need to factor into the decision because the district stretches into Hennepin County. The latter scenario could have required all students to learn via the hybrid method blending in-person learning with distance learning.

After consultation with state health and education officials, district administration determined that only Wright County’s numbers would be used.

“There hasn’t been any major movements [in case numbers],” Superintendent Matt Schoen said. “ . . . We don’t anticipate, unless there’s some sort of event in our community, that we would have to move to a different level before the school year starts.”

In addition to approving the proposed base learning model, the school board authorized Schoen, “after consultation with the school board chair and notification to the school board, to select and implement a different learning model for the school district or any specific school buildings without school board action of the superintendent reasonably believes that prompt implementation of a different learning model is necessary, and that constraints of time and public health considerations render it impractical to hold a school board meeting to approve the implementation,” according to the resolution the board approved.

“The learning model selected and implemented by the superintendent shall continue in effect unless and until the school board, in consultation with the superintendent and appropriate school district staff and public health officials, deems it in the best interest of the school district and its students to implement a different learning model,” the resolution continues.

Schoen will also provide regular updates to the board regarding the district’s efforts to implement COVID-19-related educational and public health guidance issued by the departments of education and health, according to the resolution.

“If numbers change, we would go into consultation with Wright County Public Health,” Schoen said. “More of a concern is if there happens to be an event. That is dictated by the department of health on when we change. It could be as little as 24 hours notice.”

He said parents should have a plan in place in case that happens.

“We want to make sure, when we transition between models, we are as accommodating as we can be,” Schoen said.

Returning to distance learning is highly unlikely, according to Schoen.

“The only way we would go into distance learning is if there was a significant event on our campus,” Schoen said. “That would be at the recommendation of the department of health.”

“It’s not just us or Matt making a decision with his cabinet,” board member Corey Black added. “We have agencies coming in to help us make these decisions. We’re not just doing it on our own. It’s professional experts helping us make this call.”

Board member Al Briesemeister asked about training for teachers.

Schoen said there will be training on virtual platforms like Google Classroom and Seesaw, conversations about gaps in learning between spring and fall, and in-services regarding social-emotional wellbeing and cultural awareness.

Board member Jennie Rosenow asked about providing tips for parents who are helping their children learn from home.

“I can bring that back to the leadership team on if there is more guidance we can give,” Schoen said.

Board member Amy Johnson said, “I loved that there were links to resources for families on how to navigate through this. It would be great for check-ins to include an emotional barometer to see ‘How are you doing emotionally? Do you have what you need in terms of support to get through this?’ Maybe a counselor or social worker could reach out to them.”

To gauge how things are going overall, the district will facilitate surveys at some point after school begins.

“I like the idea of continuous opportunity for feedback for the teacher community and parent community to see how things are going in either model we’re in,” Chair Lisa Seguin said. “We need to keep the feedback loop open throughout the year.”

A number of changes are being implemented, including the introduction of a face covering policy. The board approved the first read of the policy Monday, and will consider the second read of the policy this coming Monday.

Unless an exception applies, all students, staff, and others present in school buildings or riding on school transportation are required to wear a face covering such as a disposable mask, cloth face mask, scarf, neck gaiter, bandana, religious face covering, or medical-grade mask or respirator.

“Face coverings should not be placed on anyone under age 2; anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious; anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the face covering without assistance; or anyone who cannot tolerate a face covering due to a developmental, medical, or behavioral health condition,” according to the policy.

Face shields may be used as an alternative for students in grades kindergarten through eighth grade “when wearing a face covering is problematic.”

Teachers of any grade level and staff providing direct support student services may wear a face shield when wearing a face covering could impede the educational process or service being provided.

Staff, students, or visitors with a developmental, medical, or behavioral health condition may wear a face shield instead of a face covering.

The policy also includes 11 occasions when individuals may temporarily remove their face covering.

Board member Rachel Depa asked for an explanation of the process for removing a student from school for refusal to wear a face covering.

“It’s on a case-by-case basis,” Schoen said. “If a child refuses to wear a mask, we would offer distance learning . . . We’ll work with them the best we possibly can. We have to be consistent in enforcing the executive order that has the rule of law behind it.”

He said that district nurse Tina Prior will be the point person for all face covering-related questions.

Johnson asked if the policy would remain in effect if the executive order requiring face coverings indoors is lifted.

“The policy could remain in effect, but we would have to do a review of it,” Schoen said. “The policy was created because of the executive order. If it goes away and it’s not a requirement, we’d have to review the policy and the board would have to make a decision on if it needs to remain or not.”

Depa asked about what will be allowed on masks, as she raised concerns about allowing political messages. Schoen said the dress code would apply to masks.

“Some things have been allowed at school and some haven’t,” Depa said. “That’s what worries me.”

“We will have to rely on administrators at the site level,” Schoen said. “Is it a disruption to the educational process or not? It’s great for kids to personalize their masks but we have to do it appropriately.”

In addition to the face covering policy, school buildings will have more doors unlocked at the beginning and end of each day so students are not all using the same entrances and exits.

Secondary students will be required to maintain 6 feet of distance whenever possible, while that is not a requirement for younger students in the classroom full time. Hygiene and cleaning processes will be improved and implemented in both situations.

With all the changes coming, district staff is compiling a frequently asked questions document, and will be posting answers to them in the near future.

Uncertainty over ‘20-21 school year remains

Since Gov. Tim Walz made his announcement regarding the 2020-21 school year amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, school boards and superintendents throughout the state have been grappling with what the announcement means for their district.
Delano Public Schools is no exception. Currently, the district intends to release a detailed reopening plan no later than the week of Monday, Aug. 10, with a final announcement on the learning model that will be used to open the school year no later than Friday, Aug. 21.

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