School board talks about COVID-19 practices for new school year

Published 9:02 pm Monday, August 1, 2022

No, COVID-19 has not disappeared and likely never will.

In dealing with COVID-19, Kathy Niebuhr, executive director of administrative services for Albert Lea Area Schools, updated board members on practices the district is following during a study session Monday night. 

Following the termination of daily check-ins for students and staff last February, as well as the end of using thermal scanners in early spring, the district’s goal remains the same — ensuring “systems are in place to provide a safe environment for students and staff both physically and emotionally,” she said. 

“There has been no official release of a plan from the Department of Education or Department of Public Health on where school districts should go next year,” Niebhuhr said during a virtual presentation. “What we want to do as we start in a few weeks is take a look at where we’ve been, and given all the information we have … [determine] what are some of our recommendations moving forward.”

First, five-day quarantines will still be required. But the district will not require students, staff or administration to provide a negative test on day six to return to school.

“We will now leave that up to the individual family and staff member to return on day six as long as there’s improved symptoms, which are defined as a person no longer feeling ill and “they can do their daily routine just as they did before they were ill, and any remaining symptoms, such as cough or runny nose, are very mild, or infrequent.”

The district also recommends students wear masks for the additional five days.

Contact tracing will also continue, with tests being provided by the district.

According to Niebuhr, the Department of Health will no longer require individual reporting, but instead surveillance reporting, something she admitted neither she nor the district’s nurses were familiar with.

She said the district would also like to move away from having testing and vaccination information on the district’s webpage to reference Freeborn County Public Health and the Minnesota Department of Health pages.

“We’ll clean up our webpage a little bit and really reference Freeborn County Public Health,” she said. 

Following the Schools and Child Care COVID-19 Isolation Guide provided by the Minnesota Department of Health, if symptoms improve and you have been fever-free for 24 hours (without using fever-reducing medication), you can return to school, but it’s recommended to wear masks around others including those in your house for another five days. If symptoms have not improved, you are to stay home and away from others until symptoms improve and you are fever-free for 24 hours.

District goals were also talked about during the session, as Ron Wagner, the district’s new superintendent, laid them out to board members after attending the Minnesota Department of Education kickoff for superintendents and district administrators.

“The area focus was ‘How are we centering our work on our students and our staff,’” he said. “That was the foundation of today’s event.”

Wagner said as he listened to the presentation, it was centered on the social and emotional well-being of students and staff.

The first goal of the district for 2022-23 will be on ensuring high quality core instruction for Tier 1 of multi-tiered systems of support.

“This really encompasses the work of ensuring that there’s high quality learning and the experience, as well as the engagement for all students in Tier 1,” he said.

The second goal: building staff work so as to achieve Level 2 certification in High Reliability Schools.

“That’s the effective teaching in every classroom,” he said.

The district’s third goal will be to strengthen professional learning communities and data cycles, essentially trying to determine if students are learning, and adjusting or modifying to meet student needs.

The district’s fourth goal will be ensuring systems are in place to provide a safe environment for both students and staff physically and emotionally.

“I know that when I was going through the interview process I referenced the emotional safety for students as well as the physical safety,” Wagner said. 

The fifth goal will be a focus on social well-being of students/staff through social emotional learning, which Wagner defined as not a thing but a state of being.

“We’re really building on relationships,” he said. “Today the governor really emphasized having that foundation of relationships. 

“It’s been stated that students don’t care what you teach though they know that you care,” he said. “I think [it’s] really important … [that] we strengthen our relationships both with our students  as well as our adults.”

The next district goal will be to build a community across the district with a focus on culture and climate.

“Gov. Walz referenced that today,” he said. “We’ve kind of gone through this up and down and this wave. He was speaking to his own son and felt this sense of optimism coming back to now when it’s finally a clear picture of what the students are coming back to.”

The district’s final goal will be to maintain a 12% fund balance, as Wagner said fiscal health was essential to move forward. 

The next school board meeting will be at 5 p.m. Aug. 15.