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Returning to school in the fall for the Waseca Public School district is still up in the air until the end of July when the MDH will give the plan for returning to school. In the meantime the school board has adopted a pandemic preparedness plan that will be implemented if students return in-person. (File photo)

Waseca Public Schools unanimously passed a pandemic preparedness plan.

COVID-19 caused schools to finish the 2019-2020 school year through distance learning and now moving forward schools are creating plans to bring students back safely, if allowed.

“I think it’s a lot of preparation that you guys have been doing with the planning,” school board member Katie Youngberg said. “So kudos to that because it’s a lot of planning.”

The Minnesota Department of Education released three scenarios of what returning to school in the fall could look like. Scenario one: in-person learning for all students, scenario two: hybrid learning with strict social distancing and capacity limits and scenario three: distance learning only.

A COVID-19 Preparedness Plan was created by all businesses and now the school is using a pandemic plan from a school in Connecticut on how to keep staff and students safe if school resumes in-person in the fall.

“We just felt like we needed protocols as we move forward and this is something that is being asked of businesses,” Superintendent Tom Lee said. “This has been reviewed by a number of different individuals, our nurses have had input, the admin team had input and now we present it to you (school board) as a plan that we will move forward with. Part of today’s guidance from the state is that we don’t know what kind of model we’re going to start in but you should have plans for all three: school as normal, distance learning 2.0 and a hybrid and you need to be ready to jump between those.”

Waseca Public Schools has created a committee to improve distance learning for if and when it is needed again. When school closed in March, schools scrambled to come up with the best plan for distance learning, not knowing it would last to the end of the year. Now, Waseca is preparing and improving the system for the students.

The Minnesota Department of Education and the Department of Health will release by the end of July what school will look like in the fall.

The school board heard the pandemic plan if students return to school as usual. There are five phases for the COVID-19/influenza-like virus plan.

Phases of pandemic plan

The first phase of the plan is to return to school with no outbreak.

If there is no outbreak and students and staff return to the building there would be additional signage for hand washing and classroom education to continue routine interventions to prevent the spread of illness. This would also include teaching and reinforcing proper hygiene of students and staff.

Nurses in the buildings would communicate with staff on influenza-like symptom recognition. School nurses would also identify students who are most vulnerable to serious illnesses, compromised immune systems and other high-risk students to work with them on their health needs.

Throughout all of the phases of the plan there will be surveillance to watch students and staff closely to monitor for symptoms of an influenza COVID-19-like outbreak.

There are three levels of surveillance that will be done: standard, heightened and intensive.

Standard surveillance is defined in the school pandemic plan as no influenza-like activity reported in the community (flu season), monitor daily attendance for increased reports of absence due to influenza-like illness and do not report absences to the health department unless greater than 10 percent.

Heightened surveillance is defined by the school pandemic plan as influenza-like activity reported in the community (less than 10 percent school absenteeism due to influenza-like illness) monitor daily attendance for influenza-like illness/absences, begin morning “influenza-like check” in the first hour of school – screen those who report positive for symptoms, log absences due to influenza-like illness and send a weekly absence report (via fax) to the health department.

Intensive surveillance is defined by the school pandemic plan as a high number of influenza-like illness reported in the community (10 percent or greater school absenteeism due to influenza-like illness), monitor daily attendance and log absences on the log sheet, continue morning “influenza-like check”, send daily absence reports to the health department and begin preparation for potential school closure.

This first phase calls for numerous other safety precautions to help prevent an outbreak at Waseca Public Schools.

The second phase is an outbreak of COVID-19/influenza-like disease with less than 10 percent of students falling ill.

In this phase heightened surveillance will begin, informing parents that some students are sick but schools remain open, including information sheets and info resource lists, displaying influenza-like illness prevention signs throughout the schools and other precautions.

The third phase is an expansion of the outbreak with 10 percent or more of students ill but less than 30 percent and will keep students in school.

The plan calls for the school district to request the MDH to issue an ADA support letter to schools/epidemic declaration, begin intensive surveillance reporting, provide resources for emergency information, consider canceling any non-academic events, coordinate with the facilities director to initiate specialized cleaning procedures and numerous other steps.

The fourth phase is for a continued expansion of the outbreak with more than 30 percent of students ill. This is when the schools would have to close.

In this phase the MDH or MDE issues a declaration and school district issues press release to close schools, cancel any non-academic events and continue specialized cleaning procedures to list a few.

The final phase is what comes after an outbreak and how to return to school.

The MDH issues a declaration and the school district issues a press release that schools can reopen, continue communicating with Waseca County Public Health, return to heightened surveillance reporting and ongoing specialized cleaning procedures along with preparing for another outbreak.

Parent communication was key throughout all of the stages of a potential outbreak and following an outbreak.

Lee also mentioned that schools throughout the Waseca Public School District could be in different phases depending on what the health is like at each school.

“There is no playbook so we’re trying to establish it as we go,” Lee said of creating a plan.

Reach Reporter Bailey Grubish at 507-837-5451 or follow her on Twitter @wcnbailey. ©Copyright 2020 APG Media of Southern Minnesota. All rights reserved.

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