As a result of an increase in COVID-19 cases in Goodhue County, the Kenyon-Wanamingo School District made a switch to a phase 4 learning model, hybrid learning (a mix of in-person and distance learning) for preschool to sixth grade students, and distance learning for grades seven through 12 to begin Nov. 11. This decision has also created concerns with the fate of extracurricular activities for the remainder of the fall season.
Something to look forward to
After K-W Superintendent Bryan Boysen asked K-W School Board members for their thoughts on the status of extracurricular activities at the Nov. 12 K-W School Board Work Session, Board Member Debb Paquin asked Boysen what his gut feeling was telling him to do.
Boysen said 36 hours prior to Thursday, he was thinking the district would have to shut down. After looking at the numbers with the number of staff coming back and instances of close contact, instead of positive cases, he said his gut is telling him to play it out and take it day by day.
“I am worried about our kids’ mental health,” added Boysen. “We just told these kids they can’t come to school and now we would be telling them they can’t play sports.”
Echoing Boysen’s thoughts, Paquin said the students need something to look forward to and some kind of outlet for mental health reasons.
“We’re making the best decisions we can with the information we have, this is tough, we are talking about senior athletes here too,” said Paquin. “We’ve got to give them something, there has to be grace somewhere along the way.”
Boysen said the last 10 days have been filled with a lot of sleepless nights and stress.
“One week ago Monday, Nov. 2, things were looking OK,” said Boysen. “Then all of a sudden the virus hit and staff were absent and students were absent. It happened very rapidly.”
With an increased Goodhue County 14-day case rate per 10,000 residents almost doubling from 34 to 65, Boysen said the district’s goal is to remain in the current learning model through Thanksgiving, though each day brings new changes and the district is very close at looking at a phase 5 model, meaning distance learning for all.
“There’s mental health components in these decisions,” said Boysen. “This is tough, this is the hardest year I’ve ever had and this is my fourth year as superintendent.”
Staying motivated in school
Board Member Rod Woock agreed saying it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to be able to protect oneself, everyone just needs to be smart. If K-W shuts down and other districts don’t, Woock believed the district wouldn’t be much better off, since gathering would likely still occur in other places.
Tonya Craig, board member and parent of student athletes, also support holding out a little while longer to allow fall athletes to finish out their seasons. She found it refreshing as both a parent and board member that the district was keeping mental health in mind, especially at this time of the year.
For some students, Craig said a specific sport or activity may be what’s giving them structure in their life to get them from one day to the next. For student athletes like hers, sports are what keep them motivated to excel in school.
“I appreciate you losing sleep over this, I know a lot of parents and kids are too,” said Craig. “I think if we keep some normalcy, the majority will feel better.”
Board Member Kevin Anderson reminded others there are only eight days until Thanksgiving break, which are all distance learning days for high school students.
“It’s a tough time for all these students…we need to give them something to go for,” said Anderson. “Extracurriculars are why they are there for most, we need to at least give them a chance. At least get them through Thanksgiving.”
Boysen said there are protocols in place, and staff and students have been doing a phenomenal job at being compliant and responsible.
“We are doing things differently to minimize exposure the best we can,” said Boysen.
Voices of concern
Board Chair Marilyn Syverson, a longtime nurse, expressed her personal concerns and those of parents who are greatly concerned about sending their kids to practice or games knowing that could be the night they will be exposed. She proposed for a decision to be made according to the guidelines, adding that they were put in place for a reason by the Minnesota Department of Health and Minnesota Department of Education. Although the decisions may not be popular or meet all needs, it depends on the district’s priorities.
“I thought the priority was to keep staff and students safe,” said Syverson. “While they have their needs, they also have families who are essential workers out in the community and need to go to their jobs. We don’t know where they are getting it, but I believe in contact tracing and I’d like to think we are setting the example and adhering to guidelines … as a voice of constituents who’d like to see someone call this.”
Paquin appreciated Syverson’s comment on families having the ability to decide if they want to send their child to practice or a game, serving as a reminder parents have complete control over what students and athletes can do.
Following Paquin’s comment, Syverson added, “No parent likes to be involved in that decision, you are letting a team down because you’re supposed to be committed. It might affect a relationship with a coach, I’d hope not, but it’s an unpopular opinion pulling your kids out and that burden will be on the families as well.”
Boysen said noted all board members concerns and plans to meet with the administration team Friday to discuss any possible changes to the learning model.