WHS students with masks (copy)

Waseca Junior Senior High School students in Karen Pfarr Anderson’s class, along with all students in the building, wear masks while siting spaced out when the district first returned to school. The Waseca School Board decided to move back to hybrid learning beginning Monday at its Thursday meeting (Bailey Grubish/southernminn.com)

The Waseca School Board decided Thursday that students in grades seven through 12 will return to hybrid learning next week.

The district holds distance learning for all students on Mondays so the first day they’ll return is Tuesday.

The decision comes in the midst of rising COVID-19 rates in the county, the majority of which stem from the Federal Correctional Institution in Waseca. The Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday released its latest two-week data reporting showing Waseca County with a rate of 85.07 -- the highest in the state and more than double the next highest county. Waseca County's rate for the previous two-week reporting period stood at 74.96 per 10,000.

When the board made the decision to move to distance learning for grades seven through 12 two weeks ago, the district had 64 students in quarantine. That number shrank to two students and five staff in the following weeks, Waseca Superintendent Eric Hudspith said. The elementary schools showed eight students and two staff members in quarantine since operating in a hybrid model since the start of school, Hudspith said.

Initially the board indicated it would evaluate the COVID-19 situation monthly prior to changing its learning model, but a spike in quarantined students at the start of school prompted the quick change, Hudspith said.

“It has worked,” Hudspith said of the learning model change. “It has done what it’s supposed to do.”

Eliminating COVID-19 cases at FCI-Waseca, the community case rate per 10,000 hovers around 42, according to Hudspith. That number is also from two-weeks ago, he added, and the current number is likely closer to 22.

COVID-19 numbers in the county are expected to continue to climb in the next two-week reporting data from the MDH, especially after a two-day community testing event, but Hudspith didn’t feel waiting accomplished much.

“If we let (community testing) impact our numbers preemptively it would drive us out another week,” he said.

The move back to hybrid learning elicited unanimous support from the board but Board member Edita Mansfield raised concerns about moving back and forth between learning models.

“It seems like we’re going back every two weeks and I really have concerns,” she said. “This virus is going to get worse.”

Board members said they received a lot of feedback from the community about switching the learning model and Hudspith said activities did not play a big role in the recommendation he made.

“If it wasn’t safe to have kids in school we certainly wouldn’t be doing it for activities,” Hudspith said. “If it gets ramped up again, we’ll act again.”

Activities can resume Monday and schedules for the resumption of football and volleyball have been set. Minnesota State High School League guidelines stipulate districts in distance learning models cannot hold practices or competitions but those in hybrid learning models can.

Members of the Waseca cross-country team addressed the board to urge them to return to a hybrid model so sports can resume. 

The board adopted a resolution at its August meeting that it doesn’t have to take formal action to vote on approving changes to the learning model, so no vote took place Thursday.

Reach Sports Editor Nick Gerhardt at 507-835-5447 or follow him on Twitter @WCNSports. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved. 

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