With Menahga School closed, staff are taking time to deep clean the school and buses as well as prepare distance-learning lessons, which are expected to begin March 30.

“Students took home basically everything – devices, chargers, textbooks – so they can work from home as soon as we’re ready,” Superintendent Kevin Wellen told the school board on Monday, March 16. “We’ll be sanitizing all of the lockers over the next nine days.”

Beginning Tuesday, kitchen staff prepared lunch for every student. “We actually had breakfast to-go for all the kids to take home at the end of the day today (Monday),” Wellen said.

Lunch goes out at 11:30 a.m., with paraprofessionals and other staff help load the buses. Bus drivers available for mid-day routes are covering the routes.

The district applied for a waiver in order to serve any child under the age of 18, “even if they aren’t our students,” Wellen said, “and the state will reimburse us. This is for everyone. There is no qualification. There is no paperwork.”

Wellen said some parents refused the food service.

“We’ll also have grab-and-go, if they prefer. We’re willing to set up drops, say Wolf Lake,” he continued.

Board chair Andrea Haverinen mentioned that parents have wondered if there is any benefit to the district to serving meals or is it a $1-to-$1 reimbursement.

Wellen said he wants parents to know that the food service is not costing the district money. “It’s a courtesy that we’re extending, and it’s a program that the state will fund,” he said.

Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer encourages parents to accept the food, saying the district has the staff to make it happen and it feeds preschoolers as well. If parents opted out, they can opt in later, she noted.

“We’re hoping to lessen the stress on families in these trying times,” added High School Principal Mark Frank.

School board member Durwin Tomperi asked if Wellen anticipated any supply chain disruptions.

Wellen said the district has a good cleaning supply and food, so far, has been delivered on time. Secondary food vendors are also available.

When distance learning begins, the buses could also deliver and pick up homework door to door. “That’s going to be our mechanism to do that, if we can allow that,” Wellen said. “It’s not the goal to be intrusive; it’s to be convenient.”

He reported that a student survey about internet connectivity showed about 90 percent had access.

Families who were unable to pick up their students’ belongings on March 16 should call ahead to make an appointment and practice social distancing when they come to the school.

Wellen said superintendents have daily teleconferences with the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE), also a regional webinar with Sourcewell about COVID-19.

Haverinen asked how MDE expects districts to make up the nine school days lost between March 17-27.

Wellen said Menahga’s current school calendar has three days, possibly six, beyond the requirement. Since it was a governor-ordered shutdown, he anticipates Gov. Tim Walz will say make-up days are optional.

Wellen said MDE is stressing “valuable” and “equitable” distance learning. “They want it to be the equivalent of being in school.”

Board member Julia Kicker said parents of seniors are concerned about the effect on graduating.

“This is going to be a statewide conversation; in some cases, a nationwide conversation,” Wellen replied. “When it comes to seniors, we have graduation credit requirements that they have to meet. … So it’s going to be about getting the credit they need to graduate, not about days in the building.”

Frank concurred, saying he urged seniors to stay on track with their homework in order to graduate.

On Thursday, Wellen reported that meal deliveries increased over the past few days. Initially, 853 out of 1,070 students received meals. By Thursday, they served 1,724 meals total.

“That’s probably 90 percent (of the student body) because we’re feeding younger siblings that aren’t in school, too,” he said. “Once everyone knew everyone else was taking it, it was ok.”

He congratulated staff for making the meal delivery a success, adding he’s heard “a lot of accolades” from parents.

Mayer said she’s received emails from grateful kids.

Menahga Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer coordinates bus and van drivers via walkie talkie.
Menahga Elementary Principal Jeannie Mayer coordinates bus and van drivers via walkie talkie.Shannon Geisen/Enterprise

“Today Team Menahga hit our stride,” Wellen wrote in an email to staff. “Over 1,700 meals made before 11 a.m. 1,638 loaded on 17 buses in 8 minutes!”