Although many topics were discussed during the Mabel-Canton School Board meeting on November 17, the common theme running through nearly the entire meeting was the upcoming winter and the challenges it will bring, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Currently, Mabel-Canton is in a “hybrid” learning model called Scenario 2, Plan A. This model is four days in-person learning and a half-day Fridays of distance learning for students. Although the rising COVID-19 statistics could require Mabel-Canton to take further steps to prevent infection, all agree that the school should have students in school as much as possible.
Although the board’s student representative Colton Heintz-Kuderer was not in attendance at the meeting, he had submitted a written statement, which Superintendent Kuphal read aloud, including, “Everything in school is going well, and people at very happy to be staying in school. Fridays are a bit of a challenge for some students, but we are more than happy to try to work through it… Thanks to all the teachers and staff who are making this possible.” Colton also reported that the football and volleyball teams are wrapping up successful seasons soon.
Kuphal shared that if further restrictions are needed in the learning model, he recommends doing this is gradual steps, such as switching the high school to a “2 and 3” plan, in which students would be in-person at school two days per week, with three days of distance learning.
The board discussed extracurricular activities, and at what point they may be halted, if the pandemic worsens in the local area. Kuphal summarized, “We know that around the state, and even around here, our rates are increasing pretty dramatically. Our local Incident Command Team (ICT) will be meeting tomorrow afternoon…” He said that although the community numbers are increasing, the numbers within the school remain relatively low.
Kuphal further explained that “As this related to activities, it’s quite confusing.” He said the directives from the state mandate that if a school is required to switch completely to distance learning, then activities must be halted. But if a school chooses to switch completely to distance learning, activities could continue. But he said he’s also heard from the state that “Nobody is going to be required to go to distance learning.” After consulting with the Minnesota Department of Education, Kuphal said his understanding is that Mabel-Canton could continue activities, unless/until the COVID-19 rates stipulate that the school should switch to all distance learning. He asked whether the entire board wants to make these decisions, or if the board is comfortable letting the ICT decide. The consensus was that the ICT could decide, since they are not required to post a scheduled meeting three days ahead, so the ICT is able to act much more quickly when needed.
Kuphal brought up the topic of “snow days” and e-learning days. He explained that although a few years ago, the board approved a plan for e-learning days, this has not yet actually been implemented at Mabel-Canton. Kuphal said the school has traditionally “forgiven” the first three “snow days” every winter, and then makes decisions thereafter if more snow days pile up. He said the board could direct the administration to implement e-learning days after the first three snow days, for example. He added a caveat that this would only be “if possible,” since if a winter storm came up unexpectedly, teachers would not have had the opportunity to send materials home with students in preparation for a possible e-learning day. The board voted to implement the previously approved e-learning days plan, as needed this winter.
Principal Wiedemann and Kuphal discussed Mabel-Canton’s bussing contract, and how that would be impacted if the school switches to all distance learning. Although the contract states that the payment would be required even if bussing service isn’t needed, Kuphal said he recommends some negotiating could be done between the school and the bussing company. It was determined that Kuphal and the board’s negotiators will follow up on this.
The board approved hiring to create an additional custodial position. Kuphal said the cost will be covered by CARES Act funding, and that the new position would be temporary. He added that this may allow a smooth transition with one custodian expecting to retire next year.
The board gratefully acknowledged generous donations from the Scheie WELCA group ($530 for the Milk Break program) and First Southeast Banks of Canton and Harmony ($674, including $603 for the Milk Break program, and $71 for school supplies).
Mabel-Canton’s next regular board meeting is set for December 15, beginning with the annual Truth in Taxation hearing at 6:01 p.m.