Rush City Schools interim Superintendent Brent Stavig announced the district had decided to take a “14-day circuit breaker,” during the Rush City School Board meeting Sept. 17.
Stavig explained that earlier in the week an individual who had been in the high school later tested positive for COVID-19.
“We had all the strategies in place. [But] the environment where this person was, it was pretty challenging to social distance,” Stavig said.
Through using contact tracers and with the advice of the Minnesota Department of Health, 68 people were identified who needed to self-quarantine. This included staff and students. As the week wore on, more positive tests came in.
He said they were facing a situation where it was hard for them to have enough staff to provide in-person learning and they suspected that more and more cases would trickle in, so they decided to try a “14-day circuit breaker,” using the terminology of the Department of Health.
“We all stop, separate and quarantine,” Stavig said. “In 14 days it should reset. We really weighed heavily if we should do that. It was the guidance of the Department of Health. They are there to guide us.”
The district began distance learning on Sept. 18 and plans to return to in-person learning on Oct. 5. Stavig emphasized a final decision to return to in-person learning will be made on Oct. 2 and will be a “data-driven approach.” It will depend somewhat on what the county numbers are at that time. He also said, “It depends on what people are doing outside of the school that also contributes to it.”
“This doesn’t mean this is how we will respond next time. This is trying a strategy and seeing how effective it is, not setting a precedence,” Stavig said. “I myself want our kids here in person, we want the social benefits, the educational benefits. But when we have the students distance learning and staff issues, I think it will be better to let everyone work from a distance-learning perspective.”
Another challenge is the district’s busing situation. The same buses are used for the elementary and the high school. One board member said, “It’s like we don’t have separate building because we are picking up our kids in a confined space.”
Stavig confirmed, “If we separated busing, we might be able to keep one building going longer, but then there are students that have siblings.”
Board Member Stephanie Folkema said, “I hope that the teachers and the staff in our district know that we see what they are doing and we appreciate it; the distance learning and the switching on a moment’s notice.”
Elementary Principal Staci Souhan said in her report that staff had said there was more need for “self-care strategies.”
“My whole staff has done a great job at great personal cost to them and their families. I am not talking only about teachers,” Souhan said.
High School Principal Janet Wagener said internet access and getting students online has been an issue but added: “Where we were in March is not where we are anymore. I think it will work out really great.”
The board also recognized Danielle Carlson and her work with the school district.
“She works at an organization called Cigna and applied for a fellowship and worked for the school district,” Stavig said. “Cigna offers a very gracious amount of funds that we were able to utilize in our community this spring. She really honed in on one project — worked diligently with the (high school) to remodel the consumer lab. With very little cost to the school district, we were able to put in new appliances and food prep stations. Healthy living (will) have an effect in the community for many years to come.”
The board also recognized Anders Johnson for his many years of service.
“He is one of the go-to people we could call at 4 in the morning to go out and check the rural roads to see if the buses could make it safely,” Stavig said. “He contributed to the school community in many ways and look forward to working with him in the future.”
Kirsten Quigley explained in her financial report that the revenue is over budget and expenditures are under budget.
“So this is the end of our fiscal year, a big snapshot of last year. ... Our expenses are going to look different than last year.”
Stavig added, “We are tracking on the additional personal protective equipment and cleaning supplies.”
The coronavirus relief funds have to be spent by Dec. 30. The district also received money from the CARES Act, about $93,000.