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Board hears update about first 2 weeks of school

Albert Lea Area Schools administrators gave an update Monday during the school board study session about the first two weeks of school and plans moving ahead. 

Superintendent Mike Funk said 821 students started out in distance learning but 70 transferred back to in-person. He said under this learning model, elementary and high school classes have averaged out to about 24 students per class, while middle school has averaged out to about 30 students per class. 

With the in-person model, the average elementary class size is just over 19 students, with the largest class size being 25 students in third grade. He said at the elementary level, particularly, teachers are encouraged to put students in pods to keep interaction between each student contained to a smaller group. 

At the secondary level, which has a combination of in-person and virtual learning, the largest in-person class size is 40 — with half of that number meeting every other day. 

Funk said the district has added clear plexiglass dividers at both the middle and high school lunch tables to prevent the spread of any potential germs coming out of the mouth while the students are not wearing their masks when eating. 

He noted thus far, there have not been many distance learning families picking up lunches for their students during the week, though he expected that to increase with the approval of a federal waiver allowing students to get free lunch and breakfast through December. 

As the district starts to look ahead to the colder months, which are typically cold and flu season, Funk said school leaders want to know what the impact will be on families if the district has to change the in-person learning model for the elementary level to a hybrid or distance learning model because of increased COVID-19 cases and families need day care for their children. He said families will be asked to complete a survey about this in the near future. The district presently has 18 students signed up for day care for essential workers on Fridays. 

Distance learning families will be asked to complete a survey about their distance learning experience thus far this year. 

Later this month, district families will receive notification that those who want to switch the learning model they are signed up for before the second quarter can do so. 

Currently, Freeborn County has an average of 9.17 cases per 10,000 people over a two-week period. The district would have to consider changing its learning models if that number increased to 20 cases per 10,000 people, Funk said. 

Kathy Niebuhr, executive director of administrative services for the district, who is serving as the district’s COVID-19 coordinator, said this number is updated every Thursday on the district’s website. 

Niebuhr and licensed school nurse Lisa Dugger provided further information about the district’s health and safety protocols regarding COVID-19 during the school year. 

Niebuhr said students and staff are asked the same three questions each day of school: Do you have flu-like symptoms or loss of smell? Have you been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the past 24 hours? Is anybody ill in your household?

Niebuhr said at about 9 a.m. each day, she goes through staff responses, and the district’s licensed school nurses start going through student responses each day starting at 8:30 or 9 a.m. The district’s COVID-19 team meets daily as well. 

If staff answer yes to any of the questions, they are contacted directly. If a student answers yes to any of the questions, the school nurse in that building calls the student into the nurse’s office. 

Dugger said if the student answers yes to the first question, they discuss with the student a series of symptoms. If the student has one of the more common symptoms of COVID-19, including fever, difficulty breathing or a new loss of taste or smell, he or she is sent home and encouraged to be tested for the virus. 

She said if the student is not tested, they have to be absent for 10 calendar days. 

If the student has two of the less common symptoms, including sore throat, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, chills, muscle pain, new onset of a severe headache, or new onset of nasal congestion or runny nose, they are sent home as well. 

She said if a student is sent home, the district also has to send home any siblings or other members of the household, who have to be quarantined for 14 days because of the potential incubation period of the virus. 

“It’s quite complicated to tell you the honest truth, Dugger said. 

She said thus far, parents have been understanding, but it is difficult reaching some of the parents when they are at work. 

If a student tests negative for the virus, that student and his or her siblings can immediately return to school, she said. 

Dugger and Niebuhr said there has been a good response to the daily precautionary questions by staff, and the district is working to increase the response, particularly at the high school level. 

In addition to updates about the school year and the COVID-19 pandemic, the board briefly discussed the district’s goals for 2021. It will likely vote on them at the next board meeting. 

Board member Jill Marin suggested adding a goal for graduation rates. 

After some discussion, the board agreed to add a goal for a 90% graduation rate at the high school and 80% as a district.