The Menahga School Board held a special meeting Monday, opting to schedule two in-service staff days.

The decision was based on rising COVID-19 cases and the need for staff to prepare for a distance-learning model, should the district need to implement it.

The two staff development days are Friday, Oct. 9 and Friday, Nov. 6. There will be no school for students on those days.

Superintendent Kevin Wellen shared figures from the Wadena County Public Health Department, noting that the most current data is two weeks old.

Between Sept. 6-19, the 14-day rate per 10,000 population in Wadena County was 8.79. It was 19.65 in Hubbard County, 10.23 in Todd County, 14.48 in Otter Tail County and 12.73 in Becker County.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

Wadena County public health officials estimated that the rate would rise to 11.72 for Sept. 13-26 and 16.85 for Sept. 20-Oct. 3 due to new cases, but those who tested positive had to be interviewed and verified. “Which is why they are two weeks’ behind all the time,” Wellen said.

They also told Wellen that increased rates in Hubbard County “were reported to be from an establishment and widespread community spread.”

“So we’re watching this,” Wellen said, pointing out that Wadena County’s higher rate may result “in more strict social distancing in our building for those who are here.”

According to Menahga School District’s COVID-19 plan, if the rate goes over 10, the high school moves into hybrid learning. When it trends over 20, the elementary shifts into the hybrid model as well. If over 30, high school goes to distance learning. If the rate hits 40, the entire school will be distance learning.

Thanks to larger classrooms and smaller class sizes, Wellen said Menahga is fortunate to stay in its current learning model. “But it’s getting closer, and the fear that everyone’s got is that it may be inevitable that we’re going to be in distance learning, at some point, with the trends unless they plateau or start coming back down.”

Wellen said families and staff have said that incorporating distance learning into classroom learning “is a lot of work and it’s starting to get a little overwhelming.” He recommended releasing students early on Oct. 9 and Nov. 6 to allow teachers to “reset” and “fine tune” their distance-learning software, skills and planning.

Distance learning is challenging and intense for all school districts, Wellen said.

Board member Durwin Tomperi recommended two full in-service days. “I think with the stress and the preparation that’s needed, I wouldn't be opposed to giving them a full day.”

Principals Jeannie Mayer, Ann Wothe and Mark Frank all agreed that staff would find that time valuable and worthwhile. For instance, Wothe said lessons could be pre-recorded, noting there is a shortage of substitute teachers.

With some teachers working from home, Mayer said it has been a learning process for all.

Calling this “unprecedented times,” Tomperi said, “if staff needs time to deliver quality education, I think that’s time well invested.”

The motion passed unanimously.

In other business, the board accepted board member Bob White’s resignation in order for him to serve as athletic director.