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Administrator’s Corner: School district prepares for winter

Administrator’s Corner by Mike Funk


As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, many individuals in the media are stating that we are going to have a “dark, cold winter.” I would like to take a few moments to inform the public about how Albert Lea Area Schools is planning to operate throughout this winter and the remainder of the school year.

As a district, we are well-prepared to keep our students and staff as safe as possible in this pandemic. All individuals who enter our buildings have their temperatures checked through our thermal scanning system. All students and staff are also expected to complete a three-question health screener daily.

Mike Funk

The district has a COVID team of nurses and administrators that meets daily to examine the situation in the district. As part of this meeting, positive answers to the screener questions are reviewed by the team. Individuals who answer yes to any of the questions are interviewed by our medical staff, and a determination is made on whether or not they should stay in school.

As winter approaches and the COVID numbers are expected to increase, we may have to switch our learning model at some point. If the district does adjust to a new learning model, it will be virtual for all students K-12.  This is because the Minnesota Department of Education requires all districts to provide child care to employees of essential workers if they are operating in a hybrid or virtual model. Based upon a survey of families, the district would have to provide over 220 students day care in our elementary buildings on days we did not have instruction for them. We do not have the space in our buildings to offer instruction to half of our students in their normal classrooms and provide day care for an additional 200 students. Therefore, if we have to shift, we will go to virtual learning for all students, and offer day care to those students of essential workers who need it.

So, what factors go into making our decision on what learning model to use? There are really four things we look at:

1) The current situation in our buildings. We have three current cases in the district out of the 3,100 staff and students who are in our schools on a regular basis. 

2) We examine the positivity rate of the test to determine if more of the people who are taking it are testing positive (currently 4.3% in Freeborn County).

3) We analyze any outbreaks in manufacturing areas or adult care facilities in our community that are not school-related.

4)  We review the MDH count for Freeborn County. This number is the average case count per 10,000 people over the prior two weeks. This is not a current number, but an indicator of where the county has been. Because this data is not current, it has the least amount of impact on our decision to adjust our learning model.

Decisions on changes to our learning model will be made by the district after consultation with our partners at the Minnesota Department of Health and Freeborn County Public Health. Utilizing our safety protocols and the decision-making tools that I have shared with you, we will continue to take a commonsense approach to provide the best education for our students.

Mike Funk is the superintendent for Albert Lea Area Schools.