By Wanda Hanson
When the Rushford-Peterson School Board met Monday, July 20, two community members addressed the board during the public comments portion of the meeting. Leandra Duneman politely requested, “I ask you to find the safest way possible to educate our students in person. I don’t want anyone to babysit my kids — they need an education.” Concerned about older students, Duneman asked, “How are you going to catch up kids later if they are already struggling?”
Emily Paulson, a life-long community resident, shared her concerns with the board as well. Paulson, an essential employee at an urgent care clinic, shared that her children had been going to daycare and Kids’ Club throughout the pandemic. She struggled to work a full-time job, come home to her household duties, and then need to help her children with their schoolwork. If the school went to a hybrid or strictly online scenario, Paulson asked if there would again be childcare available and asked how that would be any different for safety than in person school. She closed asking, “What additional tools will you provide (parents)?”
Superintendent Jon Thompson assured that all of the questions from the comments were going to be considered. He reminded the board that Governor Walz would be telling schools which scenario they were to use to begin the school year. Thompson suggested that Walz might give individual school districts some leeway depending on the COVID rates in the communities.
Thompson went on to say that Rushford-Peterson hoped to begin school in person on September 8; staff is doing their best to make it as safe as possible. He noted that daycare is a concern if it becomes necessary to use a hybrid or distance learning scenario. The school’s focus is on elementary with an attempt to get younger students and special education students to school every day.
“We are following guidance,” Thompson stated; masks are “highly recommended” but not required. He shared that the school will have face masks available for purchase for $2.00 that will have the R-P logo on the cheek. (Masks will be purchased at $3.00 each by the school.) Twelve or so face shields have also been ordered to be used by speech and language teachers. Thompson informed the board that an electrostatic disinfectant sprayer will be used to clean rooms thoroughly; seven mobile hand sanitizer stations have been purchased for use around the school as needed. Air flow in the gym haas been increased.
High school principal, Jake Timm shared the results of COVID surveys of parents and staff. Three hundred sixty-three parents (about 60-70% of enrolled families) responded to the survey regarding the scenario they would prefer for school. Seventy-two percent wanted in person classes, 16% opted for hybrid, and 11% preferred distance learning. The staff response was that approximately 75% were either comfortable or relatively comfortable with the in person scenario.
Timm told the board that students would be asked to go to their first hour classes when they arrive at school. He also mentioned that some classes could be held outside. Ports to increase WiFi capability have been donated and the installation can be paid through the CARES funding.
Elementary principal, Angela Shepard told the board that recess will be fit into each teacher’s day so no large group recesses will take place. Tables currently used in classrooms can be changed out to allow for more social distance in. Superintedent Thompson noted that using the formula to find room capacity, staff found that most rooms in the school have an occupancy of 20 to 21 people following the 50% allowed occupancy. Rooms such as the forum room could be used for large classes.
Thompson asked the board to consider the addition of a school nurse to the staff. He told the board that CARES funding could be used for the coming year. Thompson has also been in contact with the county nurse about the possibility of sharing a nurse with other schools or the county.
Community member Dana Thompson spoke to the board, advocating for a school nurse. According to Mrs. Thompson, there is a place for a school nurse to do education of staff and students. She went on to say that the nurse could help in IEPs and 504s and well as in training on epi-pen use, AEDs, and CPR. Pointing out that an online course for potential school nurses would be held in August, she told the board the school nurses would have an opportunity to network as well. Board member Joyce Iverson commented, “We have a great opportunity to just do it!” The board passed a resolution to advertise with the intent of hiring a nurse and to continue to look into contracting a nurse or sharing a nurse with other schools.
In other action, the board:
•Approved renewal of membership in MSHL;
•Approved the long-term facilities 10 year plan;
•Approved student membership in HVED (Hiawatha Valley Education District);
•Accepted bread, milk and gas bids;
•Decided to keep school lunch prices at current rate;
•Appointed Laura Hahn as assistant clerk for the school board election process;
•Approved the Hiawatha Mental Health agreement subject to a discussion by Superintendent Thompson with the Hiawatha Mental Health, regarding the high increase in the cost;
•Set filing dates of July 28 through August 11 for school board candidates. There will be
three spots to fill; Bonnie Prinsen, Valarie Howe, and John Linder will be leaving the board.