10/19/2020 12:58:00 PM Northland School Board: Administrators give COVID-19 Update to Board
By Kyndra Johnson of the Press-Citizen
Northland Community School Administrators shared an update on the COVID-19 situation with the board at a special meeting held Tuesday, Oct. 13. After having to close down classes and swiftly move to a different learning model for the past couple of weeks, due to a student testing positive for COVID-19, the board held a special meeting to hear more about the situation.
Principal Mary Yakibchuk started the meeting informing the board of where the district is currently sitting on a teaching spectrum with one side being in-person and the other side being full distance learning. The spectrum showed that currently Northland is sitting closely to the in-person side, but not fully as there are numerous students that have chosen distance learning. Yakibchuk shared that there is an increase of risk with that type of learning model as opposed to teaching fully in a distance learning model with courses and opportunities being offered as normal.
Assistant Principal Jon Payne then shared with the board how the week of Oct. 4 began and the decision process behind it. Payne stated that on Sunday, Oct. 4 he received a call stating a Northland student had tested positive for COVID-19. Monday morning he and Yakibchuk began the process of performing contact tracing, which led to sending approximately 36 students home to self quarantine for 14 days before returning to school. Along with the students that were sent home, there was an additional 17 staff members that were sent home due to either being in close contact with the student or having to leave due to child care issues. Also, on Monday Renee Bettenberg, Health Paraprofessional, examined an additional 19 students and staff that were experiencing symptoms.
In essence, Marc Ruyak, board chair, stated that he wanted to make it perfectly clear, that the district sent students and staff home not due to health or having enough staff, but due to the decision tree put into effect by the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH). This tree states that anyone that comes within 6 feet for at least 15 minutes, cumulative, of someone who is infected then they must stay home from all activities for at least 14 days since last contact. It also states that even if they test negative they must continue to quarantine for the 14 days.
With having to send home that many staff members Northland administrators canceled classes for Tuesday in order to evaluate the staffing situation and possibly switch to a different learning model. It was decided that the students in grades K-6 would begin learning at the distance model until Oct. 20 and students 7-12 grade would begin learning using the hybrid model, which is having half of the in-person learners attend school on Monday and Tuesday and the other half on Thursday and Friday with all students distance learning on Wednesday. This is also only in effect until Oct. 20, which then all students and staff that were possibly infected will be allowed to return to school, unless some develop symptoms.
Board member Bill Wake inquired from the teachers present on how many students can fit into their classroom and still maintain a six foot distance at all times. It was stated that each class room could accommodate approximately 12 students, with that being said, it was noted that some classes have 16 students attending in-person. Therefore, there is no way to practice the six foot social distance requirement set by MDE and MDH. It was then asked that if a student attended a class where distancing could not be practiced and did not want to be put at the risk of being sent home if somebody contracted COVID-19 if they could ask to be removed from the class and attend it remotely in a different area of the school. Yakibchuck stated that would be a logistical nightmare and you would possibly have students sitting everywhere because they didn't feel "safe."