COVID-19 is still affecting students this school year, and with a new variant spreading, school districts are discussing ways to stay healthy moving forward.

During the Rush City School Board meeting Dec. 16, Superintendent Brent Stavig and high school nurse Deborah Meissner spoke on COVID-19 numbers within the district.

Stavig covered data that has been updated within the county.

“We anticipate 103 cases per 10,000, about 1% positive cases in the county,” Stavig said.

Because the county’s numbers play an important role in the district, Stavig wanted the public to keep that in mind.

“Basically the change in our school age children compared to last week was down 5.7%, but it’s important to keep in mind the county’s data is lab-confirmed cases,” Stavig said. “Because we do the rapid tests, and they are not a lab-confirmed case, unfortunately that means they don’t go into the county’s data either.”

Thirteen active cases were recorded as of Dec. 16, and the school does offer take-home tests for students.

“Right now we have 13 active cases. I would say over half of those are caught with tests I am sending home with kids, which is a wonderful thing. I think it’s just wonderful that we have those resources,” Meissner said. “I want to get the word out, too, that we do have tests for staff, for students, anyone who needs a rapid test, we have them available and we give them out freely.”

Meissner monitors the health details of students and feels it’s important for the public to hear what is currently going on in their schools.

“I just wanted to come and talk about COVID and what it looks like at school, because I think to the general community it appears like we’re kind of back to normal and we’re in school and ‘yay’ kids are in class, and I just want to offer a more nuance picture, because we are still seeing a lot of COVID,” Meissner said. “COVID is still affecting us in our every school day, a lot.”

Meissner explained the district has been tracking absences due to illness within the schools.

“Every single day we have a much higher than normal number of kids gone, so at our peak, I think there were 45 elementary school kids out with either COVID or they were quarantined or they had COVID-like symptoms. Today we have 25, the high school had 23, I think, and that is kind of where we’ve settled in as a normal — that would be astonishing in a normal non-pandemic year,” Meissner said. “It’s very hard for me personally talking and seeing all these kids get sick.”

With students returning full-time this year, there are many struggles that the schools are coming across.

“Teachers in both buildings are dealing with kids that are out for extending times. What it looks like is, teachers in classrooms with a chunk of their class gone every day. Not only teachers, of course, but with staff out, crazy staff shortages, and you know we are Rush City and we all do what we need to do to help each other out, but we are tired,” Meissner said.

Meissner feels it’s important that kids are back in school but said it is still difficult for everyone.

“I wanted people to be aware that this year is different than last year, and it’s good that we are in person, and I know how important that is. It’s also still very, very hard. It’s hard for teachers who are dealing with absences and it’s hard for staffing,” Meissner said.

Stavig explained how difficult this situation is for the schools and said he appreciates Meissner’s efforts during the pandemic.

“It is a challenging situation, and I just want to be very open as well. Deborah is doing a great job working through it; that is her bread and butter. Her area is the health in kids and we are seeing concerning health with our students and our staff,” Stavig said.

Meissner said she wanted to share the details so the community would know how important this situation is.

“I just want to make sure that everybody has a clear picture of everything that is going on. It is taking an emotional toll on everyone,” Meissner said. “The pandemic is not over, no matter how much people pretend it’s over, it’s not over.”

School Board Chair Stefanie Folkema shared with Meissner that her voice is being heard.

“We do hear you, we do, I cannot stress that enough. There are no good answers right now, we don’t have any good answers, because there is a jumble between sickness and mental health,” Folkema said. “We’re doing the best we can.”

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