Superintendent Lance Bagstad alerted the Park Rapids School Board Monday to a positive case of COVID-19 within the school.

“COVID is impacting the district,” he added. “You can see that our county numbers are increasing.”

He said staff and families have been notified, and anyone who was exposed has been asked to quarantine, “and we just remind everybody to be vigilant with social distancing, masks and hygiene.”

Bagstad said the district’s COVID-19 committee was meeting Tuesday to discuss the appropriate response. “We need everybody to prepare for changes to a more restrictive learning environment, if need be. But for the most part, face-to-face instruction of students is the best. We know that, but we also know that we can do our part to contain the spread.”

Considering that about 2,000 people come to the school every day, he said, “we are doing a great job with our protocols, and that’s why we don’t have a lot of spread. But when it gets out there in the community, we are a cross section of the community. So, we need everybody to be vigilant in precautions, as well as just be prepared, for yourself, for your family, should we have to move to a more restrictive learning model.”

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‘Half gone’

Asked how hybrid learning is going, high school principal Jeff Johnson told the school board “there are some struggles” getting students to turn in work during their distance learning days.

“They’re not always logging onto their Google Meets or to the Zoom meetings,” he said. “If we see students missing work, not turning things in, it’s usually from those days that they’re distance learning.”

Johnson described attempts to communicate with parents and students about this issue, which he said isn’t a problem when students are in person. Board members chuckled when Johnson made a verbal slip, describing students in the hybrid model as “half gone.”

He said that if the elementary school moves to a hybrid model, they can expect an adjustment period as teachers work out how to present lessons both in person and via distance learning.

“It’s a new animal,” said Johnson. “It takes time to adjust and time to figure some of those things out. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

“I would rather that my student be in school every day,” Bagstad said as a parent. “We are managing the best we can.”

He added, “Kids adapt a lot better. … This isn’t long term. We cannot operate long term this way. We just work through it the best we can, mitigate it. But our staff has been working hard.”

Elementary principal Mike LeMier said his teachers feel fortunate to still have in-person students and continue to emphasize health and safety procedures.

“Last week, we sent out a survey to find out how many kids would need school-age care, in the event that we do need to switch up our learning models,” he said. “Right now, pre-K through (grade) 6, we’re sitting at around 100 kids. So, we’re working on figuring out space and staffing for that.”

Hoping kids are OK

Middle school principal Shawn Andress said that holding parent-teacher conferences virtually meant “we didn’t have the turnout that we wanted, but at the same time, we have had more parent contact, I think, than we have ever had. … I will freely admit that when we start looking at calendar in the future, folks, we don’t need three days to conference in the fall anymore.”

Andress said only a few fifth and sixth graders will need school-age care if the lower grades shift to hybrid learning.

While he agreed with Andress about the conferences, Johnson added, “My teachers miss meeting those ninth grade parents for the first time, because we can’t put a connection together unless those parents come in for activities – which we don’t have that either.”

He also reported missing the sight of large groups of seniors eating together in the cafeteria, “laughing and making memories and … having fun. Now I see two people sitting at a table, and I just think, ‘Oh, I hope those kids are OK. I hope they’re still going to have some memories of what it’s like to have an entire class be together.’ … It’s just different with only half of them here.”

Johnson reported a struggle, many days, to staff classrooms when teachers call out. He voiced appreciation for full-time substitute teacher Walt Harrison, who sometimes handles three classes simultaneously, spread out across the school auditorium.

The school board held a moment of silence in memory of former high school activities director John Schumacher, who died Oct. 14.