As of Tuesday, Sept. 14, nine active cases of COVID-19 were reported in Pequot Lakes High School students and staff, with some other symptomatic individuals undergoing testing, prompting a two-week mask policy in the high school.
Interim Superintendent Kurt Stumpf informed families that the majority of those cases have occurred since Monday, Sept. 13. In a letter to students and parents, Stumpf wrote: "In order to streamline communication, there is a high likelihood that your child has been exposed to COVID-19 and should closely monitor symptoms."
"Please remember the number one mitigation strategy is to stay home when sick. Staff and students are reporting a rapid onset of symptoms prior to testing positive to COVID-19."
— Kurt Stumpf, Pequot Lakes Interim Superintendent
Because of this, the district is requiring all individuals to wear a mask upon entering the high school building on school days until 3:15 p.m., effective Wednesday, Sept. 15. After the school day, masks are highly recommended.
Additionally, “maximum distancing” will take place in all high school classrooms, and physical education classes will be held outside as much as possible. There will be increased distancing in the lunchroom and at school events as well.
These mitigation measures are in effect for two weeks, and will be re-evaluated Wednesday, Sept. 29. The mitigation strategies are based on the district's recently developed COVID-19 mitigation framework.
"In order to streamline communication, there is a high likelihood that your child has been exposed to COVID-19 and should closely monitor symptoms."
— Kurt Stumpf, Pequot Lakes Interim Superintendent
“Please remember the number one mitigation strategy is to stay home when sick,” Stumpf wrote in a letter to families. "Staff and students are reporting a rapid onset of symptoms prior to testing positive to COVID-19.”
Many who have COVID-19 have said they thought it was just allergies, Stumpf wrote. The common symptoms that are being reported begin with a mild cold or allergies and rapidly develop into body aches, fatigue, sore throat, headaches, chills, runny nose and feeling feverish.
Board approves COVID-19 mitigation plan
In a special meeting Monday, Sept. 13, the Pequot Lakes School Board voted 4-3 to approve a COVID-19 mitigation framework for the district, as outlined by Stumpf.
The presented framework outlined potential mitigation strategies based on four levels:
- Level 1 (minimal or no cases in a classroom) would see in-person learning happening as normal.
- Level 4 (more than three cases in a classroom or student group) could see the enactment of a number of strategies, including a 14-day mask mandate or a consideration of temporary distance learning.
“There isn’t a crystal-clear path for this moving forward,” Stumpf said. “I think throughout the nation, you are seeing people trying to get their bearings and figure out how to navigate this.”
Board members Susan Mathison-Young, Tracy Wallin and Amy Sjoblad voted against the framework, with Mathison-Young and Wallin saying the plans as presented aren’t enough.
The only requirements this year from the Minnesota Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control are that students wear face coverings on school transportation, and that the district report all positive cases.
Masks are “strongly encouraged” in all other settings, but not required. Stumpf said one of the reasons for no mandate on face coverings is that they are currently in line with state recommendations, knowing that it may change at some point based on local data.
“We didn’t want to give the impression to our community that (a mask mandate) is never going to happen here or that it will be highly recommended the whole school year,” Stumpf said Monday. “We wanted to make sure our community was aware, not just on masking, that these may come into play. We aren’t exactly sure when or how, but the idea is to be up front with them that these are all strategies we may use.”
Sjoblad and school board member Dena Moody both expressed concerns over some vague wordings within the plan. Stumpf agreed some points may be unclear, but reminded them that there is still uncertainty as to how the plan - as well as positive cases - may come about.
“This gives us a little flexibility, and we can go back and look at it if the board so chooses,” Stumpf said. “The intention was that we would work through some of this while we were in this process. Some of these should be more clear in weeks two, three and four.”
Board member Curt Johnson supported the framework, saying it gives the district “ownership of the situation,” which he feels is ultimately what the community wants.
In other business Monday, the board approved the district’s preliminary levy for 2022. As it stands the district would operate with a total tax levy of $5,887,961, which is a decrease of $321,772 from the previous year. Business manager Heidi Hagen said the decrease is due to lower enrollment numbers.
The board may approve a final levy in December that is lower than the preliminary amount, but it cannot increase the amount.
In other action, the board:
Set its annual truth in taxation meeting for 6 p.m. Monday, Dec. 13, with the board’s regular meeting to follow.
Accepted a proposal from the Minnesota School Boards Association for full-time superintendent search services.
Approved a request for a one-year variance for Community Education Director Joell Tvedt. Tvedt is not licensed, but expects to have her license by the end of the year.
Accepted five donations to the distinct totaling $1,259.36.
As a part of its consent agenda, the board accepted the retirements of paraprofessional Debra Buckner and custodian Mark Rieschl, along with the resignations of community education secretary Lori Bernu, van drivers Steven Dahms and Jerome Deml, head boys track coach Dave Guenther, assistant tennis coach Anna Larson, Knowledge Bowl coach Tony Maurer and early childhood special education paraprofessional Marie Williams.
The board approved the following hirings: bus driver Diane Karnitz, cooks helper Anna Haberle, assistant tennis coach Katrina Moody, early childhood clerical/paraprofessional Cheryl Blanchard, high school paraprofessionals Alison Evenson and Diondra Gottsch, Eagle View Elementary School paraprofessionals Mackenzie Nelson, Trudy Westrich, Courtney Rock and Michele Gonnion, school health office nurse/licensed practical nurse Ann Sweeney, ECSE paraprofessionals Melissa Dahlheimer and Angela Helmer, facilities supervisor Nancy Ryan, night custodian George Lohr, middle school paraprofessional Taeler Jenniges, van driver Glenda Swenson and mock trial coach Dan Moddes.
Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.