Medford Chromebooks 2 (copy)

Waseca Junior Senior High School Students move to distance learning on Chromebooks starting Tuesday, Sept. 15. (File photo)

Waseca Junior Senior High School seventh through 12th grade students started Monday in full-time distance learning or level orange on the Waseca Public School flexible learning plan.

This change came near the end of the first week of school for the students.

Waseca County positive COVID-19 cases jumped to an average of 50.51 case rate per every 10,000 people in a 14-day period. This number per the recommendation on the Minnesota Department of Health website has students distance learning.

“I personally think even though our number now is creeping over 50 if we have the support of the Health Department and the County Health to provide that consistency to (kindergarten) through sixth, I think it is really important,” School Board Chair Julie Anderson said. “Which is why I think going to status level orange is a prudent measure and unless something drastically changes that will be the status for the next two weeks.”

Hudspith said from what he is aware of there are four active cases of COVID-19 in the WJSHS with 64 students quarantined due to an exposure and at the pre-kindergarten through sixth grade level he is aware of six students quarantined due to an exposure.

In the flexible learning plan level orange students in PreK-sixth grade will continue with hybrid learning as status yellow states, which is how the students started the school year while the WJSHS students move to full time distance learning.

Hudspith said part of the reason he wanted to keep PreK-sixth grade in the hybrid model, besides low quarantine numbers in the building, is based on the parent survey that was sent out. One of the questions in the survey asked parents of PreK-sixth grade students if childcare is needed if full time distance learning is implemented. He said that 164 expressed interest in childcare and that is not much less than would be in the building for the hybrid model.

If the number of case rates per every 10,000 people goes above 50 in a 14-day period, the Minnesota Department of Health recommends all grades move to distance learning.

All members of the school board were in favor of this two-week switch to flexible learning plan level orange. The board hopes to move back to level yellow where students seventh through 12 are back in a hybrid model.

The goal is to be back to the hybrid level yellow on Sept. 29 after the numbers are reevaluated.

“In order for us to get back in two weeks we really need the community to help us out here,” Anderson said. “It’s true we’ve only been open for school for three days and we’re shutting down, but it’s not because what the school is doing, these are all numbers from before school started. But in order for this to only be a two-week level orange we need our students, who are now going to be home to do their job and we need the community to help us out. That’s the reality.”

Activities on pause

While WJSHS students are distance learning all school activities are suspended due to the Minnesota State High School League requirements. The students will not be allowed to compete in fall sports and activities or practice in-person for the duration of distance learning.

This is for the safety of students, staff and community members in both Waseca County and the communities that were lined up for competitions. Hudspith mentioned he has thought about the financial aspect of sports and not playing or practicing but no decisions have been made for prorating or reimbursement of activity fees paid at this point.

“I think the suspension of activities, which is really disappointing, not traveling to different communities and competing,” Hudspith said. “It really gives us an opportunity to isolate our students and community to really kick this and get through it.”

Distance learning requirements

In the flexible learning plan on the Waseca Public School District website there are requirements of both the teachers and students while distance learning.

Teachers are required to hold daily office hours and hold regular check-ins with students while also responding to emails within a 24-hour period within normal school days.

Virtual instruction will be held through synchronous live instruction or through Google Meet as well as through pre-recorded instructional videos, according to the flexible learning plan level orange.

Students are expected to check all learning platforms as well as emails. They will develop and follow a school schedule to keep a routine while at home as well as maintain communication with teachers or staff with questions or concerns.

Other county schools

Hudspith met with the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton superintendents prior to the school board meeting to discuss what those schools will be doing for a learning model the next two weeks.

JWP started the school year with PreK-sixth grade in-person learning and seventh through 12th grade in full time distance learning. That will continue until the new set of case rate numbers are evaluated.

Starting on Monday, Sept. 14 NRHEG sixth-12th grade students are distance learning while PreK-fifth grade students will continue in the hybrid learning model.

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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