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Local bus companies implement protocols to keep students safe

Getting students to school during the pandemic is another challenge that is being tackled by the local bus services and schools.

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and Waseca Public Schools both worked with the bus services that are used to transport students to create the best and safest plan. JWP uses Palmer out of Janesville and Waseca schools use Lenz and Palmer.

All bus services are limited to 50 percent capacity following the Minnesota Department of Health guidelines.

Janesville Palmer

Palmer in Janesville is running a two-tier busing system so all students that need to can ride the bus. Certain routes for JWP will make two runs in the morning and afternoon to keep in compliance with the 50 percent capacity guideline.

While on the bus students will be required to wear a mask and they will be sitting in assigned seats to social distance as best as possible. Students will be allowed to sit together if they are from the same family or household. The windows will also be open as much as possible to help circulate fresh air.

With the tier busing schedule Tom Engel, Manager of Janesville Palmer, said he anticipates cleaning between the tier switches and will sanitize the buses in the morning and after the last route in the afternoon.

“Safety is our main concern,” Engel said. “We’re going to help the students as much as we can. I’m very concerned about my employees getting sick. I have no replacements.”

Engel said he has lost 30 percent of his employees and he is in need of more drivers, but he has enough for the routes so far.

Sanitizing and cleaning the buses is important for the students but also to keep the limited staff he has healthy and safe. So far Palmer in Janesville has enough cleaning supplies to keep up with the cleaning regiment.

“It is challenging to get resupplied, but we currently have enough for the beginning of the school year,” Engel said.

Waseca Lenz

Lenz in Waseca is one of two bus services for the Waseca Public Schools and has put in safety measures to keep staff and students safe this school year from COVID-19.

As of Sept. 2 additional routes were not implemented by Lenz, but the bus registration closed at 5 p.m. that night. Kelli Lenz, who runs Lenz Bus Services said that if there was a need for more routes then the school and Lenz Bus Services would work together to make additions.

There will not be transfer buses between schools this year, meaning it will take longer to get students to school, according to Lenz.

All students and the drivers will be required to wear a face mask on the bus and each bus will have some back-up masks in case a student forgets theirs. Students who ride with Lenz are asked to bring their own face mask and hand sanitizer.

“It (COVID-19) certainly made things much more challenging,” Lenz said. “I think that the safety precautions that have been put in place are the best with the options available. ... It makes it a little extra challenging when it’s a shifting target.”

When students are riding on the bus they will have assigned seating, like Janesville Palmer implemented, to help with social distancing. Students in the same family or household may sit together as well.

Bus passes will be used again this year to help with assigned seating and so students know which bus to be on. The assigned seating also allows for Lenz Bus Services to alert families if their child was within 6 feet of another child who tested positive for COVID-19.

Lenz also said that a few seats at the front of the bus will be left open to allow space between the driver and the students for safety.

She said that she has enough drivers right now with a few substitutes, but she is concerned that multiple drivers could be sick at the same time and need to quarantine for the 14 days. Lenz hopes that doesn’t happen and all of her drivers stay healthy.

Keeping the bus clean is a top priority to keep all passengers and the drivers safe. Lenz said after every route a spray disinfectant will be used on the buses.

So far Lenz Bus Services has the needed cleaning supplies by buying online, but Lenz would like to buy local when she can and when products are available.

Waseca Palmer

Palmer Busing in Waseca could not be reached for a comment before publication.

Steele/Waseca Drug Court graduates the 63rd participant

For some having an addiction is a rotating door in-and-out of jail or prison. With Steele/Waseca Drug Court and others like it people are given the chance to change their life and be a productive member of their community.

David Schlaak took this chance and is the 63rd Steele/Waseca Drug Court graduate. He has been a member of drug court for almost four years and is over 400 days sober.

During the graduation program on Aug. 27, Schlaak was surrounded by his family, friends, co-workers, his sponsor, his counselor and his previous lawyer, along with the drug court participants and team. All of these people were there to support him and to praise his work and dedication to the program and getting sober.

“I was very overjoyed when I was asked to come,” Joan Kindem, a counselor at Fountain Centers in Faribault said. “He inspires me because as a drug and alcohol counselor some graduate, some graduate themselves by leaving the program, some get booted. I don’t always get to hear about people down the road especially two or three years down the road. I’m so proud of David because it wasn’t an easy journey.”

To reach graduation Schlaak had to first commit to the program and put in the work. This wasn’t an easy feat at first, especially when he almost dropped out of the program, but he put in the effort and kept his determination to reach where he is now.

“When I got here I was beat down and raw,” Schlaak said. “I did struggle and I’d get so far and I’d trip and fall and start all over again. Then I got more sober and I got a conscience and I felt bad for letting people down. I decided one day to work hard and get sober, it wasn’t easy. This is the hardest thing I have ever done and I know standing here today I don’t want to go back. I couldn’t have done it without everyone in this room.”

The Steele/Waseca Drug Court program was started in 2014 with the DWI track added in 2016. To complete the program there are five phases and is a minimum of 18 months.

The program requires court attendance ranging from weekly to monthly, recovery related programming which includes; treatment, support meetings, mental health meetings, completion of cognitive skills programs and at least three hours of self-help recovery meetings are required weekly. Participants of drug court submit to a minimum of twice weekly random testing as well.

In order to graduate from drug court a participant must complete treatment, make meaningful connections in the recovery community, obtain a valid driver license, GED/diploma, employment, compliance with child support and payment of fines, fees and restitution.

“In order to maintain long-term sobriety you have to stay connected to the recovery community” Third Judicial District Court Judge Carol Hanks said. “This is just the beginning of the rest of your life. I’m so proud to have you graduate today. The determination going through this program is second to none and you stuck it out.”

Schlaak is the most recent graduate who shared some advice for the 41 active participants on how to make it through the program successfully.

“You have gotta want it,” Schlaak said. “You can try to do it for you kids or grandparents, but you have to do it for yourself. So put in the work, get a sponsor, stop hanging out with the wrong people. You gotta want it and reach out to the other people. I know asking for help is hard but you have to sometimes.”

JWP to start school year in hybrid learning

JWP will start the school year in a hybrid model. The JWP School Board unanimously voted in favor of the resolution at the August meeting.

Pre-kindergarten through seventh grade will be in-person daily while grades eighth through 12th grade are on a rotating schedule. All students will be using a Chromebook for their work.

“We had our staff in on Monday (Aug. 24) and we brought in Willow Sweeney from Top 20 Training, who worked with our staff last year and she made some great key points, especially during this time of uncertainty,” JWP Superintendent Kurt Stumpf said. What hit home to them (staff) was a couple concepts to keep in mind.”

He said the concepts are that the staff acknowledges there are going to be some struggles this school year. Staff is trying to do the next best thing if things change due to COVID-19, staff will stay curious and not jump to assumptions.

The hybrid model is a base-learning model to start the year with Stumpf and the school board chair able to change the plan quickly based on what is best for the safety of the students and staff. The training staff received from Sweeney will help with these changes throughout the school year.

PreK-seventh grade

Students in pre-kindergarten through seventh grade will be in the JWP building Monday through Friday.

These students will stay in one classroom for the entire day, with the exception of the seventh-grade teachers rotating rooms. The seventh-grade teachers are rotating so there is less movement in the building to keep students and staff safe.

“We’re able to do that because we have the space,” Stumpf said. “So desks are 6 feet apart and meeting the capacity limits on the bus and in the classroom in our hybrid model.”

Eighth through 12th grade

Grades eight through 12 will be split into two groups: silver and blue. The silver group will be in school for two days in a row to continue with the block schedule while the blue group is distance learning at home on those days. Then the blue group will attend in person school for two days while the silver group is at home distance learning.

The block schedule has odd classes one day and even classes the second day.

All students in eighth grade through 12th grade will rotate classrooms per usual, due to class needs such as welding or art.

“We’ve got some things in place to take as many precautions as we can,” Stumpf said.

When students rotate from room to room there are one-way hallways, students can carry backpacks, every room has a hand sanitizer station to use when they enter, desks will be washed between use and many other safety precautions.

Paraprofessionals will work directly with students in classrooms when needed.

“I think our rationale is we want to give our students as much support as we can,” Stumpf said. “...We still want our paras working as best they can with the students with social distancing.”

Most students will be following this hybrid plan, but about 14 percent of students at JWP chose full-time distance learning to start the year.

For those students participating in the hybrid learning in the building be required to wear a mask at all times with some exceptions. Lunch time is one of the main times students will be able to take off their masks.

The school plans to serve lunches in classrooms whenever possible with some eating in the lunchroom.


Stumpf said there are seven daily bus routes that can transport students at 50 percent capacity.

Some of the routes will be tier busing, meaning part of a route will be picked up and then the other half of the route will be brought to school or taken home. This tier system allows the bus company to keep the same amount of routes for the time being.

“Safety is our most main concern,” Tim Engel with Palmer Bus Service of JWP said. “We’re going to help the students as much as we can. I’m very concerned about my employees getting sick, I have no replacements.”

Students riding the bus will have an assigned seat with families sitting together. Students will be required to wear a mask when on the bus and the windows will be down as much as possible.

In between tiers and routes sanitizing will take place and after the afternoon route.

“It is challenging to get resupplied, but we currently have enough for the beginning of the school year,” Engel said.

JWP (copy)

Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton has added new cleaning measures and safety protocols due to COVID-19. (County News file photo)

Sage Lang

Waseca’s Sage Lang vies for a loose ball Tuesday against Mankato Loyola in Waseca. The Bluejays cruised to a 7-0 victory with Lang netting a goal. (Nick Gerhardt/Waseca County News)