All Waseca students will be learning in their classrooms for the first time since November.

Gov. Tim Walz announced Feb. 17 that all schools should offer some in-person learning and the Waseca school district was “ahead of the game” when it began planning for that earlier this year, Waseca Superintendent Eric Hudspith told the Waseca School Board Thursday.

“I feel good about starting next week that we’ll have all of our students in at least the four-day-a-week model,” Hudspith said.

All Waseca students moved to distance learning in November due to the surging number of COVID-19 cases. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade returned to the classroom at the end of January and Hudspith told the school board Feb. 4 that he planned to bring secondary students back to the classroom in phases.

Students in seventh, eight and 12th grades returned to the classroom Feb. 15 and the first few days of in-person learning went well, with students being respectful of rules such as social distancing, Hudspith said.

Students in ninth through 11th grades return to the classroom Feb. 22.

Students will still have one day of distance learning each week, partially due to teachers needing prep time to provide learning in both the in-person and distance learning models. Hudspith added that students still need to continue to practice distance learning in case the district has to move to all distance learning again.

The district had four active COVID-19 cases and 15 students in quarantine due to exposure as of Thursday, according to Hudspith. The district’s COVID-19 situation has remained steady at about three to five cases and 15-25 students in quarantine at any given time since winter break. It means COVID-19 is still coming into the schools, but it’s not increasing, he said.

About two-thirds of the staff in the district have been offered the COVID-19 vaccine and only a few staff chose not to receive it, Hudspith said, adding that Waseca County Public Health has been a “fantastic partner” in vaccinating the staff. He expects that nearly 100% of staff should be offered the vaccine and have the first dose by the end of February, he said.

“That’s a celebration,” he said, adding that some of the Twin Cities school districts are still at about 15-20% for vaccinations.

Hudspith said district officials aim to offer summer school programs for all students who want to participate this year. Some of the programs will be remediation and credit recovery, but some will offer enrichment and experiential education for students.

Going into the 2021-22 school year, distance learning is the biggest question mark for the district, he said. It’s an extensive process to become a certified online school and the district is preparing to provide that option next school year if it’s required or if students continue to want it, he said. The district has 200 students, or about 11% of students, this school year who are fully doing distance learning without any in-person learning and the district needs to be prepared to be competitive to keep students in the Waseca school district instead of losing them to a school district that offers online learning, he said.

Reach Associate Editor Lisa Kaczke at 507-444-2371. ©Copyright 2021 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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