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Bertrang: 14 students positive since start of school year

NEW ULM — The District 88 School has counted 14 COVID-19 positive students and five staff since the start of the school. This represents less than 1% of the student body and 1.3% of the staff.

The District 88 School board received an update on COVID-19 data in the school during Thursday’s board meeting. For the last two months, the school has been open for full-time in-person learning.

Superintendent Jeff Bertrang said many people were curious about the data and how it impacts the school. Bertrang said he communicates with Public Health each week to monitor the COVID data related to schools. He said there were several metrics the school looks at in terms of COVID spread. The county positivity rate is only one metric. Other statistics include transmission in the school and the number of kids out due to quarantine. The data is also viewed by where the virus transmission is occurring; whether it is in the household, workplace or another congregate setting. Of the 14 positive testing students, only three are still out in isolation.

Though the number of positive students is low, over a hundred students have been quarantined for COVID reasons. Currently, the district has 134 students out of school in quarantine. This is 5.8% of the student body. These students do not necessarily have the virus, but were in contact with a person who did have it and are being isolated. On Thursday, 134 students were in quarantine including one elementary classroom of 22, a soccer team of 23, two bus routes with 16 students and 12 on the varsity volleyball team. Bertrang said as of Friday, the number of quarantined students would drop to 111 because the soccer team will return from quarantine.

Bertrang said in most quarantine cases, it is a household quarantine. If the school is notified of a positive case in a household, all the students in that household have to stay home. The soccer team needed to quarantine because the 23 students were all on a bus for over 30 minutes with a person testing positive.

Bertrang said this 30-minute rule for buses does not make sense in rural Minnesota because every bus route will be over 30 minutes. The school is arguing to get these regulations changed.

Of the positive cases, none of the virus transmissions can be traced back to the school. Bertrang said this was the reason the district was staying with an in-person model.

“We’ve kept it from being an issue in the school itself,” Bertrang said.

Bertrang thanked all the staff for the extra efforts they made to this point in the school year.

The board also reviewed the fall enrollment statistics. Overall, the school is down 30 students from last year because of families selecting to home school under COVID regulations.

“We knew there would be a metric difference with COVID,” Bertrang said. Many parents decided to wait to enroll kindergarten students. This has been a statewide trend. By state statute, a student does not need to attend school until age 7. Bertrang was uncertain if this would create a spike in kindergarten enrollments next year.

“It is hard for us to make an educated guess with the conditions,” he said. This could lead to budget issues. The state Legislature might consider bills next legislative session to use last year’s enrollment numbers to determine the budget.

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The board received a report on kindergarten through 12th grade science program recommendations from Dr. Paul Henn. These recommendations were developed over two years and were being presented for approval.

Henn said the content of the science program has not changed much, but how the information is presented is changing. Henn said the drive is to teach students to learn why a certain phenomenon happens.

“We’re going to start to look at things in the mode of understanding rather than doing,” Henn said.

Every science unit will use an “anchor phenomena” for the students to answer a bigger question. Henn gave the example of the water cycle. The anchor phenomena would be “why are storms in a particular area becoming more severe?” The students would have to unravel learning on this subject to develop an answer to the question.

The recommendations were approved by the board.

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The next regular school board meeting will be held at 6 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 19, in the District Boardroom and through teleconference or electronic means.

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