It’s all in the COVID-19 case numbers for the Milaca School District.
A critical data release this morning (Thursday, Sept. 24) will play a key role in determining whether or not there is a shift from in-person to hybrid learning for district high school students, Superintendent David Wedin said Monday night.
The community was notified of the possible learning plan change last week in a letter from Wedin which was posted on the district’s Facebook page.
“As we look at our learning model, parents were contacted and informed that we were in a staging phase with our learning model,” he said.
The case rate for Mille Lacs County increased from 7.77 to 13.6 cases per 10,000 people.
Per guidelines established by Gov. Tim Walz, a county case rate of 13.6 indicates a hybrid learning model for high school students in grades seven to 12.
However, based on consultation with the district’s regional support team (RST), that includes members from Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), and Mille Lacs County Public Health, Wedin said a recommendation was made for the district to enter a “staging area” for a potential move to hybrid for our high school students in grades seven through 12.
Wedin said another factor in determining the district’s learning model is the number of positive cases within the school community involving staff and students. “At this time, we do not have any confirmed cases,” he reported.
Based on current county cases, with no confirmed cases within our school community, the Regional Support Team and Mille Lacs County Public Health has recommended Milaca begin “staging” for a change in learning models.
This means the district is preparing to tentatively go to a hybrid learning model for its high school students that may start Sept. 28.
This tentative shift of learning models will be based on data released by MDH/MDE on Sept. 24 and future projections for Oct. 1.
At this time a potential shift in the Milaca School District’s learning model would not impact its elementary school’s learning model.
MDE/MDH has directed school districts to use multiple data points when deciding to change learning models to avoid a “light switch” approach of turning learning models on and off, Wedin explained.
Staging allows the district to prepare for a shift in learning models due to an increase in positive COVID-19 county cases.
While staging, the district will evaluate future data in addition to current data, to avoid making a premature learning model change and miss out on an opportunity to maximize time with students in person, Wedin’s letter stated.
This also allows families, students, and staff time to prepare for a potential switch. We strongly encourage families to have a plan should a shift in learning models be necessary.
If there is a shift to a hybrid learning model, students in grades seven through 12 could return to an in-person learning model when multiple data points indicate it is safe to do so in accordance with the Stay Safe Minnesota Plan, Wedin reported.
“There have been some things that we’ve had to change, and some things that we’ve had to modify, but overall, there’s a lot of pride in what we are doing,” Wedin told the school board. “We are doing everything we can to mitigate the risk.”
The district confirmed that Mille Lacs County had an increase in its case numbers, from 7.77 to an increase of around 13, Wedin said. He reached out to the regional support team last Tuesday [Sept. 15] and asked for their advice moving forward.
“We are going to look at this Thursday’s case number data, and the projected data for the following week,” Wedin said. “If this Thursday, the case number is above 10, which right now, that’s what the projections say where we will be, and we look at the following week, and our projection is looking like it will be above 10, then we will go to high school hybrid learning based on those data points.”
Wedin addresses sources of COVID-19 case data during his Monday night report.
He said the explanation provided by the Minnesota Department of Health last week addressed daily numbers that are commonly reported to the public.
“What the state does is use a testing time frame of two weeks,” he said. “MDH called the daily report ‘messy data’ because by the time it gets to us on a Thursday, it’s clean. It’s difficult to follow, but recently, when they cleaned the messy data, we actually lost five COVID-19 cases.”
Wedin said he’s in constant communication with Mille Lacs County Health.
“The plan for this Thursday is the numbers will be released at 11 a.m.,” Wedin said. “I’ll look at them and the projection from the county, and if it’s looking like we are above our projection, and the case number is above 10 moving forward, then we will move to a hybrid learning model on Monday, Sept. 28,” he explained.
Wedin said the school board needed to be award that the state provides the district will planning days if a learning plan switch is needed.
“Right not, we aren’t utilizing any, but I’m working with the principals to talk about the future and if we need it, we can take a planning day for our staff to get ready. We may do that.”
Learning for high school students should be fairly seamless within a hybrid model, Wedin said, because the students are still connected to the classroom online.
Board Member Sara Larsen asked about the status of Red Wolves and Gray Wolves designations for high school students of the districts switches to hybrid.
“Families are wondering if their seventh-grader and their 10th-grader going to be Red Wolves, or one of each.” Larsen asked. Wedin said the district tries to pair students within households. Principal Damian Patnode said in the ParentVue and StudentVue portals, a student information tab would indicate a hybrid plan.
Board Member Aimee Struffert asked about the lunch program. She wanted to know how the district would provide meals if there’s a plan shift.
Wedin said if the Milaca School District does switch to a hybrid learning system, in the beginning, student meals will be offered as part of a school-based pick-up system.
“We can’t operate a doorstep drop,” he said. “We are also looking at expanding our drop off area points here. We would start with curbside,” he said.
During his superintendent’s report Monday night, Wedin also provided a brief update on the Minnesota High School League’s decision regarding fall sports.
“Suddenly, the volleyball and football sports seasons are upon us,” Wedin said. “Last week, I shared my response to a requested feedback survey from the MHSHL. We are trying to balance keeping kids in school with mental health concerns of some students involved in activities. We are going to continue to evaluate the MSHSL decision, and move forward with starting those sports.”
Board Member Jeff Larson was critical of the MSHSL decision regarding volleyball and football. “This is one of the dumbest things I’ve ever heard,” he said. “There’s a likelihood we are going to go to hybrid learning next week and we’re saying it’s OK to play football. It’s ridiculous.”
Wedin replied it was very difficult for school districts to balance both things. “I’ve heard from both sides of the community on this one,” Wedin said, adding, “We will do everything we can to mitigate risk.”
Milaca Activities Director Brian Julson arrived at Monday night’s school board meeting after working a cross country meet. He provided an update on Monday’s MSHSL volleyball and football decision. Julson answered a question from Larson about possible changes to safety protocols involving those two fall sports.
“We will be getting more guidance from the league in the next couple of days,” Julson said.
In other school board action Monday night, district leaders unanimously certified the maximum amount allowed for the proposed payable 2021 property tax levy.
That levy amount is $4.13 million, a 4.11% increase when compared with the 2019 payable 2020 amount that was levied.
Business Manager Christina Wordes reported the district’s Truth in Taxation special meeting would be scheduled for Dec. 14.