Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City School Board adopted a Return-to-School Plan during its meeting Aug. 23 stating that wearing face coverings inside school buildings will be optional.
It is still federal law that all people must wear masks on school buses and that buses be sanitized after each route.
The plan does not require COVID vaccinations for students, staff or visitors.
The new ACGC plan also eases some (but not all) quarantine requirements on students who may have been exposed to an active case of COVID. but keeps quarantines in effect for staff and students testing positive and showing symptoms. The ACGC plan does call for hand washing and other cleaning protocols to continue. In addition the plan reflects school policy on all infectious diseases--that sick students/staff be fever-free for at least 24 hours (without medications) before returning to school.
In adopting this plan, ACGC was typical of school districts in rural Minnesota, easing the infection control practices in place during the 2020-2021 school year.
By contrast, according to an August 23 Minnesota Public Radio news report, most metro area schools, including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Duluth, Rochester, Minnetonka, Edina, Eden Prairie and St. Cloud are opening school in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control recommendation that masks be worn universally inside school buildings, citing the rapid spread of Delta variant COVID infections. Many colleges and universities in Minnesota also require masks and/or vaccinations in their Return to School plans, the report said.
Although nobody attended the board meeting to comment, Supt. Nels Onstad indicated that he had received community input and passed on the comments to board members. Although opinions were mixed, a majority supported not requiring masks, he told the board. (Nationwide, a recent Associated Press poll states that 60% of all respondents, and 55% of parents, support masks inside schools and that 59% support requiring vaccines of staff.)
The ACGC plan calls for COVID-19 infection rates to be monitored closely in collaboration with public health agencies. It also notes that appropriate accommodations for children with disabilities will be provided. It also states that the district has improved indoor air quality and ventilation.
There is no district-based “distance learning” option for students this year, unless they are absent for COVID-related reasons. Those not willing to attend school in-person under these conditions may call their school office to learn how to enroll in an online program.
The plan is subject to change based on factors such as local conditions and state and federal mandates.
Onstad also discussed the possibility of having COVID testing available at the school. Most board members appeared skeptical of devoting staff time to this as testing is available in Willmar and Litchfield. Onstad said that could be an issue, but if COVID isn’t detected early, and then spreads rapidly, there is a possibility of returning to distance or hybrid learning models, and children’s learning could be further affected.
Principal Robin Wall noted that a speaker at the upcoming teacher’s inservice week would discuss the traumas associated with the pandemic. The affects could last years, board member Jeanna Lilleberg said.
The board is also in the process of reviewing its communicable disease policy, which addresses the spread of various infectious diseases.
School administrators are in the process of filling several recent vacancies. Taylor Balkan was hired as a student support teacher, Peggy Starz as Early Childhood Coordinator, and Kirsten Johnson as a teacher. Interviews are being conducted to fill a vacancy left by the resignation of kindergarten teacher Abby Zylstra.
Two paraprofessionals, Laura Nagel and Anna Spencer, custodian Denise Langmo and head cook Sally Jaster also resigned. The resignation of head baseball coach Mike Kingery was also accepted. Paternity leave was granted to Brad Nelson.
“At least we have people who are willing to candidate for staffing vacancies,” Onstad noted, citing a statewide shortage of teachers and support staff, especially school bus drivers.
Enrollment looks promising
Enrollment numbers appear to be up, with Elementary Principal Kodi Goracke reporting 324 students enrolled in the elementary building, up from 311 last year, and High School-Middle School Principal Robin Wall reporting 552 enrolled to date there, up from 542 at the end of May. Those numbers are subject to change as families are still in the process of enrolling some students.
Among other business
- Faculty handbooks and Parent/Student handbooks for the two buildings and for extra-curricular activities were adopted. Indications were that these handbooks are similar to those adopted in previous years. It was noted that a great deal of work goes into updating these documents.
- A skid steer loader lease agreement with Farm-Rite Equipment was approved. Building and Grounds Manager Tom Fordyce noted that the contract has been offered to other local dealerships, but this $500 monthly rate has remained the same for many years.
- Principal Goracke explained recent changes in building visitor protocols.
- The board also discussed various fundraising ideas for school activities. Some new approaches do not involve as much selling of merchandise.